George Stern

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Fermat's Last Theorem: The Story of a Riddle that Confounded the World's Greatest Minds for 358 Years

By Simon Singh

Fourth Estate 348pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem

By Amir D Aczel

Viking 147pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665) is on every list of great mathematicians. However, he had a day job as a judge in Richelieu’s France and his great theorems were scribbled, with little or no proof, in the margins of a book. About his Last Theorem he tantalisingly noted: ‘I have discovered a truly marvellous demonstration which this margin is too narrow to contain.’ That was certainly true: when Andrew Wiles, a Cambridge man now in Princeton, succeeded in 1994, his proof needed 130 pages and a whole library of higher mathematics besides.

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