Pierre de Fermat (pictured), according to many sources, was born on this day in 1601 in Beaumont-de-Lomagne, France (link). But was this really his birthday?
Fermat was a lawyer and French government official who spent his spare time doing mathematics. He made important contributions to the foundations of differential calculus, but is most remembered for his work in number theory; in particular for Fermat's Last Theorem. "One day in 1637, while perusing his copy of an ancient Greek text by the 3rd century mathematician Diophantus, Fermat jotted a note in the margins that would drive mathematicians crazy for the next four centuries," wrote Eoin O'Carroll in an article for The Christian Science Monitor.
Fermat wrote: "It is impossible to separate a cube into two cubes, or a fourth power into two fourth powers, or in general, any power higher than the second, into two like powers. I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain."
Read O'Carroll's article to find out more about what The Guinness Book of World Records listed as the "World's Most Difficult Math Problem".
Want to read more about Pierre de Fermat? Try these books found in the MAA Bookstore.
The Early Mathematics of Leonhard Euler
This series contains some of Euler's greatest mathematics including his first proof of the Euler-Fermat theorem.
Sophie's Diary: A Mathematical Novel
A novel about Sophie Germain, the first and only woman in history to make a substantial contribution to the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.
Diophantus and Diophantine Equations
This book includes substantial descriptions of the relevant contributions of Viéte, Fermat, Euler, Jacobi, and Poincaré.
Underwood Dudley's collection of humorous mathematical stories.