Today morning I just happened to have a look at and admire my collection of books. And I picked up Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh, a book that I had read almost 5 years ago for the first time. It is a brilliant book, especially for somebody like me to whom the mathematical details of the very long proof featuring the taniyama-shimura conjecture, modular forms and many many other things would have made no sense and I don’t pretend to understand the details. Ofcourse I know in a broad outline how the proof progressed and what it was about. Simon Singh’s book gives a gripping, almost electric history of the famous 358 year old problem and also chronicles Andrew Wiles’s love affair with it. I finished the book in one sitting.
[“I think I’ll stop here”: Andrew Wiles making history]
The Times gives a fitting one liner on the book:
To read is it 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 book is divided into seven chapters and the epilogue. Each begins with a beautiful quote. I intend to write them down here:
1. Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. “Immortality” may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.
– G. H. Hardy
2. “Do you know,” the Devil confided, “not even the best mathematicians on other planets – all far ahead of yours – have solved it? Why, there is a chap on Saturn – he looks something like a mushroom on stilts – who solves partial differential equations mentally; and even he’s given up.”
– Arthur Porges, “The Devil and Simon Flagg”
3. Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost. Rigour should be a signal to the historian that the maps have been made, and the real explorers have gone elsewhere.
– W. S. Anglin
4. Proof is an idol before which the mathematician tortures himself.
– Sir Arthur Eddington
5. The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.
– G. H. Hardy
6. An expert problem solver must be enodowed with two incompatible qualities – a restless imagination and a patient pertinacity.
– Howard W. Eves
7. A problem worthy of attack
proves its worth by fighting back.
– Piet Hein
Posting your favorite quote on mathematics in comments is encouraged! Thanks!