Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem ( 1st-7 weeks)
F 2018


Fermat's Enigma is the story of a riddle that confounded the world's greatest minds for about 400 years.  Combining thrilling storytelling with a fascinating history of scientific discovery, Simon Singh, a science journalist with the BBC, tells how Andrew Wiles of Princeton University announced a solution of Fermat's last theorem in 1993 and electrified the world of mathematics. After a flaw was discovered in the proof, Wiles had to work for another year--he had already labored in solitude for seven years--to establish that he had finally solved the the most challenging problem. The book is a lively, comprehensible explanation of Wiles's work and of the star-, trauma-, and wacko-studded history of the quest for Fermat's last theorem. Fermat's Enigma contains some problems that offer a taste of the math, but it also includes duels, suicides and affairs to give a feel of the life and times of some of the famous characters in mathematics.

According to The Times of London, "To read it is to realize that there is a world of beauty and intellectual challenge that is denied to 99.9 percent of us who are not high-level mathematicians".  The Daily Mail says, "Reads like a chronicle of an obsessive love affair.  It has all the classic ingredients that Hollywood would recognize".  The NY Times, "An excellent account of one of the most dramatic and moving events of the [20th] century.  

If you love history and you love math you will enjoy this SDG.  While advanced knowledge of mathematics is not necessary some basic knowledge of arithmetic and numbers is helpful (No algebra or calculus).  This seven week SDG will primarily cover the history of mathematics for the last 400 years although the first Chapter begins with the story of Pythagoras in Ancient Greece about 2,500 years ago where the riddle originates.   

Weekly Topics

1) I think I'll stop here--Secretive Pythagorean Brotherhood and the origins of Fermat's Enigma

2) The Riddler--From Ancient Greece to 17th century France, where Pierre de Fermat created the most profound riddle in the history of mathematics

3) A Mathematical Disgrace--Attempts in 18th century to prove Fermat's Theorem.  Leonard Euler, a prodigy in Switzerland and Sophie Germain, a woman mathematician in a chauvinistic field 

4) Into Abstraction--Further attempts in the 19th century to prove the theorem. David Hilbert, Kurt Godel, Bertrand Russell and Alan Turing 

5) Proof by Contradiction--A possible break in solving the theorem.  The tragic case of Japanese mathematician Yutaka Taniyama

6) The Secret Calculation--An untimely death of the flamboyant Monsieur Everiste Galois in a duel over a mysterious woman

7) A Slight Problem; Epilogue--A misstep and a solution at last!  Andrew Wiles triumph.    



Fermat's Enigma, Simon Singh, 1998, Anchor Books. Available from Amazon Books, about $12