Science books are getting better all the time. There are many authors who write exhilaratingly well about science, and Simon Singh is also one of them. Some of the others we have reviewed already are *A Short History of Nearly Everything* and *The Ancestor’s Tale*.

This is a well written book. It is a book about how Fermat’s Thoerem/ Puzzle, a mathematical enigma so great that it defied the world’s best mathematicians’ efforts to provide a proof for three centuries after it was stated was finally solved by an unassuming, shy, scientist Andrew Wiles.

But first, by way of a great introduction, Simon Singh takes us to the ancient Greek times and starts our journey with Pythagoras, who is famous for the Pythagoras Theorem. And his style is fluid and fascinating, which tells you why his science books are so famous in the literary world. He shows how, even though ancient Egyptians knew how to calculate hypotenuse of a triangle using the same rule as Pythagoras, how the latter proved that it is true of all triangles, thus launching the concept of a rigorous mathematical proof that changed the scientific world forever. In addition, he mixes in some personal anecdotes of the man to keep our interest high. Nicely done.

The surprising section about the perfect numbers and how squares also have one surprising fact about their factors is all fascinating.

And surprising tidbits about the life of major players keeps coming and keep you fascinated. For instance, we learn that Pythagoras was killed in a riot engineered by an applicant rejected entry to his secretive school twenty years earlier and had nursed a grudge all that time.

He talks about the Dark Ages putting paid to all progress in the West for hundreds of years and the destruction of that great library in the seat of Alexandria, not once, not twice but three times and how some of the volumes survived all that – though a great majority were lamentably destroyed.

What is nice about this book is all the tangents Simon gets into. A straight narrative of Fermat’s rule and how it was proved may have been an interesting read but when he goes into Euclid’s contributions to the solution, he also goes into other things that Euclid did, his life, his loss of sight in one eye, and even the asides – the political scene and Catherine the Great inviting “the mathematical Cyclop” back – make this a brilliant story. (He loses sight in both eyes thereafter). The female mathematicians (Hypatia, who was killed as a witch in a mob lynching, xxx who married for convenience so that she can travel, why no one would marry female mathematicians and how they stayed single all their lives) are also well covered.

The extent to which lady mathematicians had to go in order to gain recognition is fascinating.

What is interesting is the presentation. The story is told well, and flows on, and the additional mathematical details, for those interested, is moved to the Appendix and simply referenced in the main text. Nice.

In addition you learn about the craze created by simple puzzles of Sam Lloyd, and the game theory and Truel problem with Mr Gray, Mr Black and Mr White in a truel. (Duel with three folks). Mr Gray is the worst shot, hitting opponent once in three times; Mr Black is better, hitting once in two shots and Mr White is a perfect shot, hitting every time. Being the weakest, Mr Gray gets the first shot. Who should he aim at? The answer is very surprising.

The life of Galois, who is a genius in maths but a total rebel and a republican in monarchist France is touching. He gets repeatedly arrested, his contribution “lost” or rejected, and finally he dies foolishly in a duel prompted by the infidelity of a woman betrothed to be married to the best shot in town who had an affair with him and the husband challenges him to a duel and kills him.

Andrew Wiles’s first effort at revealing the proof which caused worldwide headlines are well narrated. When his colleagues find a flaw, he tries for months to fix it and his refusal to publish the work so far earns him scorn and enmity of the people. Finally, he gets the full proof ready, his reputation reinstated.

Nice work, pleasant reading on a subject that some would consider dry and pedantic. Well done. Of course, Simon now is a famous science author and has published many more books.

7/10

– – Krishna