Archive for Andrew Wiles

le théorème de l’engambi

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on May 20, 2011 by xi'an

When I climbed in Luminy last year, one of the ways was called le théorème de l’engambi. Looking on the internet, I found this was the title of a book written by a local, Maurice Gouiran. The other evening, at the airport, the book was on sale in the bookstore, so I bought it and read it in the plane back to Paris. It is a local crime novel with highly local characters (to the point I do not understand all they say), local places like l’Estaque, the OM football club, La Gineste, Luminy, and what is apparently the most appealing theorem in novels, Fermat’s last theorem! (Engambi means messy affair in local dialect.) Overall the book is more pleasant to read for the local flavour than for the crime enquiry per se, especially because it involves scenes that take place in CIRM itself (including the restaurant and the terrace outside under the old oaks!). There is of course no indication on the nature of the three page proof produced by the first corpse of the book, but the description of the mathematical community is rather accurate, overall. The author mentions in a postnote that he is aware of Wiles’ proof, but believes (as a poet) in an alternative proof that Fermat had really found. (This book is not to be confused with Guedj’s parrot theorem, which is a novelesque story of mathematics, even though it ends up on the same premise that a parrot could recite Fermat’s proof…)

The Millenium Trilogy (tome 2)

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by xi'an

Salander was at a loss. She actually was not interested in the answer. It was the process of solution that was the point. So she took a piece of paper and began scribbling figures when she read Fermat’s theorem. But she failed to find a proof for it.

Enforcing a prediction made on the earlier post, I have read through the second Millenium Trilogy volume, Stieg Larson‘s The Girl who played with fire , due to a chance encounter in the convenience shop of the hotel in Benidorm. My overall impression is better than after reading The girl with the dragon tattoo, maybe because there are less raw cruelty scenes, maybe because the hunt-within-the-hunt plot is more compelling, maybe because the action mostly takes place in the present.

By the time Andrew Wiles solved the puzzle in the 1990s, he had been at it for ten years using the world’s most advanced computer programme.

The book feels much more fast-paced than the previous one, it only covers a few calendar days where the police is searching for the “asocial” Lisbeth Salander, who is searching for a Russian sex-trafficker, who is himself searching for Salander! The very first bit taking place in the West Indies is completely unnecessary and does not even play a role in the rest of the novel (except to let us know that Salander was away, can face a tropical storm, seduce a teenager, and kill an abusive husband!). This volume tells us a lot about Salander’s childhood and the reasons why she and her mother ended up in psychiatric institutions. I also like how the book depicts the way the gutter press presents the worst possible picture of Salander from the very few tidbits leaked by the chief investigator (“lesbian Satanist psychopath”).

And all of a sudden she understood. The answer was so disarmingly simple. A game with numbers that lined up and then fell into place in a simple formula that was most similar to a rebus. She gazed straight ahead as she checked the equation.

Now, the inconsistencies and implausibilities I deplored in the first volume are there to be found  as well. First and foremost, Salander is again acting as a super-woman in this novel, mastering parallel financial networks and computer hacking, fashionable clothing and German and Norwegian accents, home modelling (in case you cannot access an Ikea catalogue, the book provides the whole series of references, maybe a Swedish habit of replacing e.g. bookcase by Billy, etc…) and chess playing, fighting techniques (against two Hell’s Angels, no less!) and, best of all!, number theory. I do not understand the motivations of the author for including this mathematical connection (unless maybe he thinks autists all make good mathematicians [when the opposite is closer to the truth!]) but he presumably read some piece on Andrew Wiles’ resolution of Fermat’s Theorem and decided that Salander could as well get a go at it! Hence a sequence of (rather dumb) mathematical quotes about equations and a few idiotic sentences like the ones above. It sounds like the author (or at least Salander) believes that Fermat had a complete proof of his theorem…and of course that Salander, unlike the four-century-some of mathematicians who vainly tried before her, can recover this proof! I have no competence in hacking but the tricks used by Salander to penetrate the whole police force computer network sound rather primitive and unlikely to work, even when obtaining the password from a police officer. Similarly, the fact that private detectives get incorporated within the police team with no suspicion nor limitations and that the first leak ends up with one officer being incriminated instead of a private detective does not sound plausible. The greater picture, namely that all characters are connected, is a weakness of many detective stories, but the book seems to be recycling about every useful character from the previous volume! At last, the relation between Blomkvist and Salander is not well-done, as it is very predictable in Salander being over-reacting vis-à-vis Blomkvist’s long-term relation with Erika Berger and in Blomkvist being completely unaware of this…