In 1997 I published my first book, a biography of a mathematical theorem. Below is a very brief summary of what it is about.
‘I have discovered a truly marvellous proof,
which this margin is too narrow to contain…’
With these tantalising words the seventeenth-century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat threw down the gauntlet to future generations. Fermat’s Last Theorem looked simple enough for a child to solve, yet the finest mathematical minds would be baffled by the search for the proof.
Over three hundred and fifty years were to pass before a mild-mannered Englishman finally cracked the mystery in 1995. Fermat by then was far more than a theorem. Whole lives had been devoted to the quest for a solution. There was Sophie Germain, who had to take on the identity of a man to conduct research in a field forbidden to females. The dashing Evariste Galois scribbled down the results of his research deep into the night before sauntering out to die in a duel. The Japanese genius Yutaka Taniyama killed himself in despair, while the German industrialist Paul Wolfskehl claimed Fermat had saved him from suicide.
Andrew Wiles had dreamed of proving Fermat ever since he first read about the theorem as a boy of ten in his local library. Whilst the hopes of others had been dashed, his dream was destined to come true – but only after years of toil and frustration, of exhilarating breakthrough and crashing disappointment. Fermat’s Last Theorem is the true story of how mathematics’ most challenging problem was made to yield its secrets is a thrilling tale of endurance, ingenuity and inspiration.