A Book Review: Fermat’s Last Theorem – Simon Singh
Recently I’ve notice that there are a lot of signposts online to great maths books that are available. Flying Colours Maths, Wrong but useful and the maths book club (Which i hope to get involved with soon) are but three examples of places where you can find mention of good maths books. As a maths teacher I have found an array of purposes for reading them. Firstly, I love maths so I find them interesting. Secondly, they give me a deeper working knowledge of the subject and improving your deeper subject knowledge should be a key priority for all teachers. And thirdly, I have found many lesson ideas in these books.
I figured that this blog would be a good place to review some maths books as and when I finish them. I did think about going back and writing reviews of all the ones I’ve read, but I don’t think my memory will allow it. Although I have decided to review one I finished at the end of 2013 which is still fresh in my mind.
Fermat’s last theorem – Simon Singh
When I started in the sixth form my pure maths teacher, Mr Armitage, had a poster up which intrigued me (as the problem had Wiles, decades before). It was based around Fermat’s last theorem. It contained the theorem, Fermat’s cryptic note about a proof but the margin being too small and a timeline of near misses up to Wiles’ achievement. I asked Mr Armitage if he could show me Wiles proof, as I was intrigued. He response was, “I’m sorry, I can’t. The proof runs to over 300 pages and some of the maths involved is beyond my own comprehension.” I was a little disappointed but understood, and decided that one day I would like to be in a position to understand the proof (Not there yet… I’m still struggling a bit with Modular forms…).
Anyway, since then I have always meant to read this book, but I hadn’t got round to it until 2013. And boy was it worth the wait.
The book is fantastically written and takes the reader on a whirlwind rollercoaster ride through mathematics history, from Diophantus to Wiles. There is a real suspense thriller feel to it in parts, and even though I knew the outcome I found myself entirely absorbed in the story and needing to find out what happened next, at points even questioning what I thought I knew.
Simon has kept the writing in the main text to a level where top GCSE level knowledge would be enough to follow, introducing new concepts in a way that is easily digestible. He also uses the appendices well to explore some of the deeper issues. This is a good way to appeal to those of us with a deeper thirst for maths without eliminating any of his potential readership.
There were a few occasions I thought I would like more information on certain things, but the further reading section has signposted me to places to look.
All in all, I think this was the best book (that’s any book, not just maths book) I’ve ever read. It isn’t just limited to Wiles’ battle with Fermat, but rather an amazing look at the world of maths, and mathematicians, through history that keeps you guessing and leaves you wanting more.
If you have even the slightest interest in maths, you MUST read this book.
You can buy his books here.
You can follow Simon on twitter @slsingh
And as I’m currently reading “The Simpsons and there mathematical secrets”, you can watch this space for a further review.