Title: Fermat’s Last Theorem

Author: Simon Singh

Date Finished: 21/10/12

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely brilliant

This is the first major science book I have read and I really enjoyed it.  Now that I’ve started my a-levels and have started to think about university, a broad knowledge of the subjects that interest me is becoming expected.  This means (for me) reading around maths and chemistry and this book is almost mandatory for anyone interested in maths to read.  Indeed, I read somewhere ‘you would stand out only by not reading this book’!

However, do not be fooled…you do not need any mathematical background to enjoy this book.  Obviously if maths is abhorrent to you, it may not be the best story to go for, but anyone who has basic levels of mathematics won’t struggle at all, as anything complex (such as elliptic curves or modular forms!) is either explained very clearly so ‘normal’ people can understand, available in an appendix at the end for ‘mathsy’ people (a-level ish standard) to have a look at, or just ignored completely, as we don’t need to be able to comprehend the mathematics to understand the story.

The length of the book was perfect – enough to be a decent read but nothing was laboured over and at the end I felt like I had a really solid overview of the history of Fermat’s Last Theorem and also of number theory in general.  There were interesting chapters on ancient mathematicians such as Pythagoras and some of the attempted proofs of the theorem that I had no idea about.  It is even more compelling to read because you know everything is true!

Singh’s prose is exemplary: he tells a brilliant story and makes complex mathematical concepts easy to understand.  He is very skilled.  It is often the case that authors may possess one of these two important traits and brilliant stories are ruined by confusing calculations or very well-explained concepts are immersed in an awfully dull story.  Singh manages to be the best of both worlds. I will be reading another of his books, Big Bang, soon and I have already ordered another, The Code Book.  If you are interested in some not-too-heavy sciencey-reading, then Simon Singh is definitely a really good place to start.

I don’t think I will re-read this book particularly soon, despite enjoying it so much as there is not the same ‘re-experience’ of characters and a deep plot that you get with a novel.  Next up for normal reading is Macbeth by Shakespeare and I think after that I might start my next science book, E=mc² by David Bodanis.  I have still got The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson on the go as well, and I am really enjoying that too.