It is not an easy task to use colorful narrative to explain the complexities of mathematics to the general public. But Dr. Amir D. Aczel (1950–2015), who passed away on November 26, was able to do just that, in a way that engaged the interest and curiosity of his readers.
As he pointed out in his 2011 book, A Strange Wilderness, “Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost.”
Simply Charly had the privilege to interview Dr. Aczel about Georg Cantor, one of the prominent mathematicians profiled in the book. The creator of set theory was included in this work because “he was the first person in history to truly understand infinity,” Dr. Aczel said. “And his methods of proof were novel and powerful.”
However, A Strange Wilderness was only one of more than a dozen books authored by the Israeli-born writer, who was also a professor of mathematics and history of science at various American and foreign universities.
But his best-known work is probably Fermat’s Last Theorem. As its subtitle suggests, this book focuses on “Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem,” which was devised in 1637 by the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat.
Though not a simple subject, Dr. Aczel wrote compellingly about how the 17th-century number theory brain-twister was finally solved in the 1990s.
Reviewers praised the book as “a real-life detective story of the intellect, at once intriguing, thought-provoking, and impossible to put down… In a volume filled with the clues, red herrings, and suspense of a mystery novel, Dr. Amir Aczel reveals the previously untold story of the people, the history, and the cultures that lie behind this scientific triumph.”
Dr. Aczel’s profound knowledge and understanding of mathematics and science, as well as his sharp intellect and ability to explain his ideas in a clear manner, came through in our interview. We are thankful to have been offered this opportunity.