Review by Tom Siegfried
The four-color map problem can be understood by a bright fourth-grader (the question: whether four colors are enough to ensure that no two countries with a common border share a color). By junior high, most kids can grasp prime numbers and learn something about their properties and patterns. High school algebra students can comprehend what Fermat’s last theorem means. Yet these topics have for decades, or even centuries, occupied the world’s most sophisticated mathematicians.
Stewart tells the story of the quest to prove propositions related to these and other topics, not so easily understood, posing problems regarded as the toughest in the mathematical world. For some, proofs have been found; for others, large cash prizes await whoever ultimately succeeds. Stewart describes the steps and missteps along the way that have sometimes opened up entirely new fields of mathematic