Thursday, 15 March 2012

Book 19 of 2012: Fermat's Last Theorem

Made it back to work, as aside from a bit of discomfort (and a slight 'I think I might pass out' sensation in the morning) I survived. Belly button is still a bit sore, and I'll be having a shower soon so will have to go through the ordeal of changing my dressings. I feel ridiculous getting all worked up about it but I just can't help myself!

And onto to book 19, which is Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh. This one is the sixth book in the Stranger Than Fiction series that I'm now over halfway through (and kind of looking forward to finishing purely because it'll give me some room on my bookcase for some of the other piles of books I'm trying to get through).
I'll admit it, I wasn't really looking forward to this book. I did consider skipping it, I really would have if I wasn't so obsessive compulsive that I really have to read all of the books in the set (in numerical order). But I read the back and decided to give it the benefit of the doubt, I mean, surely I was just feeling unenthusiastic because of the subject matter; maths and I have never really gotten along very well.

I'm the girl who once got a grand score of 26% in a maths test (and was going to be refused entry into the GCSE maths class). I managed to overcome this, scored a 1 at Standard Grade (thank you Scottish education system) and then decided to quit while I'm ahead. Ironically, since giving up maths, I've become far more interested in it. I like discovering little mathematical tricks and quirks; my doodles at work often incorporate visual representations of the fibonacci sequence (yup, I'm a geek).

So I decided that actually, I might just fall in love with this book. Plus the blurb on the back said that you didn't need to be good at maths to read it. It really sounded like something I could get into. Plus, the day I started reading it was the day that the news was focusing on the fact that numeracy standards have slipped and many people can't do basic maths problems. It meant I could sit feeling smug and intellectual while I was watching it. History, maths, a centuries old puzzle; by the time I started reading it, I'd really talked it up in my mind.

Unfortunately, after all that, it was a bit of a let-down.

Despite the assertion that you didn't need to be a whizz at maths to read the book, you kind of did. To begin with I was kind of expecting the book to be a bit like those The Knowledge books (the general knowledge versions of the Horrible Histories series). It seemed to have a bit of a sense of humour and there were photos and diagrams (all reproduced very well I have to note, considering it was all black and white).

But I felt like I was missing huge chunks of the plot, there were aspects of mathematics which were explained in the minutest of detail, while other bits which were important to the solution on the Theorem were sort of glossed over. I don't think I ever truly understood the concept of the 'proof' anyway. Plus, you knew the outcome from the very start, it was going to be solved. I wonder if there could have been a better way of structuring it, considering the fact that the events of the book were highly publicised at the time it would have been tricky.

There were other bits of the history of the Theorem that I was a bit more interested in, and there was so little of the book which was actually devoted to Andrew Wiles' role in the discovery of the solution that I would have quite happily read about all the other people, rather than him. I'd quite like to know more about some of the other's involvement.

I did get through this book quite quickly, though it was partly because I just wanted to get to the end. I kept on hoping that I would get to a point where I would really enjoy it and everything would come together, but it never really happened. I'm sure someone more mathematican than me would enjoy the book more but it certainly hasn't inspired me to track down more maths-themed reading material!
"There was a typical dignified silence while I read out the proof and then I just wrote up the statement of Fermat's Last Theorem. I said, "I think I'll stop here", and then there was sustained applause."
Pages 270-271

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