Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press
Two reviews of Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an AncientMathematical Problem, by Amir D. Aczel: "Finding Buried Treasure inBeautiful Mathematics," by Richard Bernstein, New York Times, 16December 1996; "The History of a Conundrum," by Jim Holt, Wall StreetJournal, 25 November 1996.
Running only 147 pages, Aczel's book presents the history of Fermat's LastTheorem, starting with the origins of the problem in Babylonian mathematics andending with the recent proof of the result by Andrew Wiles. Bernstein praisesAczel's book for the "sense of awe that Mr. Aczel imparts for the hidden,mystical harmonies of numbers." Although Bernstein found it difficult tounderstand some of the passages describing elements of Wiles' proof, henevertheless called the book "well worth the effort." Holt's review of thebook praises it for clarity, conciseness, and a "surprising amount of drama,"but expresses wonder that such a fuss has been made over a theorem with solittle usefulness. "The whole arsenal of higher math is hauled out to dispatcha mere curiosity," writes Holt.