THE LAST PROBLEM by Eric Temple Bell


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This book purports to be a history of a famous problem in numbers theory (to prove that where n is greater than 2, there are no solutions in whole numbers for an plus bn equals cn) which was set out in its present form by the 17th century French mathematicians and jurist Pierre Fermat. Actually, Fermat's problem is only the terminal point for the book, which is mostly an informal history of numbers theory and the progress of mathematical understanding from the Babylonians and the ancient Egyptians to the Pythagoreans and the Platonists, the Alexandrian mathematicians, and finally to Fermat and his contemporaries. Throughout, the author is as much interested in the lives of the significant mathematicians of each epoch as in their work. His book is also interspersed with entertaining if irrelevant accounts of, say, Babylonian sex life, Alexander's conquests and character, and the affaire of Anthony and Cleopatra. Dr. Bell, who wrote Men of Mathematics, uses a racy, slang-ridden style which gives full vent to his grotesquely simplified views as an historian. Unfortunately, he died before completing this book, and the end is insufficiently drawn together with what has preceded. A clear picture of the history of numbers theory fails to emerge.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1961
Publisher: Simon & Schuster