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An epic search for truth

Bloomsbury USA

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opens in a new window Logicomix Download image

ISBN10: 1596914521
ISBN13: 9781596914520


352 Pages



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This innovative graphic novel is based on the early life of the brilliant philosopher Bertrand Russell and impassioned pursuit of truth. Haunted by family secrets and unable to quell his youthful curiosity, Russell became obsessed with a Promethean goal: to establish the logical foundation of all mathematics.

In his agonized search for absolute truth, Russell crosses paths with legendary thinkers like Gottlob Frege, David Hilbert, and Kurt Gödel, and finds a passionate student in the great Ludwig Wittgenstein. But the object of his defining quest continues to loom before him. Through love and hate, peace and war, Russell persists in the dogged mission that threatens to claim both his career and his personal happiness, finally driving him to the brink of insanity.

Logicomix is at the same time a historical novel and an accessible explication to some of the biggest ideas of mathematics and modern philosophy. With rich characterizations and expressive, atmospheric artwork, the book spins the pursuit of these ideas into a captivating tale.

Probing and ingeniously layered, the book throws light on Russell's inner struggles while setting them in the context of the timeless questions he spent his life trying to answer. At its heart, Logicomix is a story about the conflict between an ideal rationality and the unchanging, flawed fabric of reality.


Praise for Logicomix

"Well, this is unexpected—a comic book about the quest for logical certainty in mathematics. The story spans the decades from the late 19th century to World War II, a period when the nature of mathematical truth was being furiously debated. The stellar cast, headed up by Bertrand Russell, includes the greatest philosophers, logicians and mathematicians of the era, along with sundry wives and mistresses, plus a couple of homicidal maniacs, an apocryphal barber and Adolf Hitler . . . All of this is presented with real graphic verve. (Even though I'm a text guy, I couldn't keep my eyes off the witty drawings.) To ginger up the story, the authors often deviate from the actual facts. As they admit in an afterword, Russell never met Frege or Cantor in the flesh. Nor, I am fairly certain, did he ever say to Whitehead, 'I'm tired, man.' (You expect Whitehead to reply, 'Me too, bro!') We are assured, however, that no liberties have been taken with 'the great adventure of ideas.' And for the most part the ideas are conveyed accurately, and with delightful simplicity."—Jim Holt, The New York Times Book Review

"Some superheroes leap tall buildings with a single bound. Others catch thieves just like flies. But the ones in Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou's graphic novel just think—really hard—about an incredibly difficult dilemma. And they get nowhere. Like all the best superheroes, they are deeply, fascinatingly flawed characters. First among them is Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher whose life story this is—at least as far as 1939. Also present are his fellow pioneers in the philosophy of mathematics: Alfred North Whitehead, with whom Russell sought, in the years before the first world war, to provide a logically rigorous, good-for-all-time foundation for mathematics; Ludwig Wittgenstein, the austere Austrian who argued that Russell's project was misconceived; Kurt Gödel, Wittgenstein's compatriot, who proved that it was; and assorted other pin-ups of higher mathematics—Cantor, Poincaré, Hilbert. This sounds as if it could be terribly dry—the quest for mathematical foundations is an abstruse one, far removed from mankind's more pressing concerns. But an intellectual passion is still a passion, and writers Doxiadis and Papadimitriou succeed in bringing out the humanity in their story. Logicomix exposes the roots of Russell's need for certainty—a troubled childhood, what else?—and tracks the collateral damage it caused in his and his loved ones' lives. The book is a visual treat as well, thanks to Alecos Papadatos and Annie di Donna's crisp, richly coloured drawings. The story is told by Russell himself, in the course of a lecture on 'the role of logic in human affairs' delivered at a US university just after the outbreak of the second world war. A group of demonstrators, demanding that the US stay out of the conflict, want Russell—jailed for his pacifist beliefs in the first world war—to support their stance. Russell acknowledges their concern but points out that they must be guided by reason—and to explain what this is, he embarks on the intellectual autobiography that is the book's core. It's a yarn as rich in dark family secrets, forbidden love and lurking madness as a teenage vampire soap. At the same time, it gives due weight to the horrors of 20th-century Europe and—while mercifully free of equations—cleaves to the essential intellectual drama. Not that that tale is lacking in gothically outré details: we learn, for example, that it took Russell and Whitehead 362 Principia pages to prove that 1 + 1 = 2. Doxiadis and Papadimitriou freely admit to inventing convenient meetings between protagonists who, in some cases, never actually met. They insist, though, that they have taken no liberties 'with the content of the great adventure of ideas that forms our main plot, [or] with the philosophical, existential and emotional struggles which are inextricably bound with it.' The authors themselves debate questions that may be a breeze compared with the ones Russell wrestled with, but they are still far from easy. Logicomix is a wonderfully persuasive answer."—Neville Hawcock, Financial Times (UK)

"At the heart of Logicomix stands Sir Bertrand Russell, a man determined to find a way of arriving at absolutely right answers. It's a tale within a tale, as the two authors and two graphic artists ardently pursue their own search for truth and appear as characters in the book. As one of them assures us, this won't be 'your typical, usual comic book.' Their quest takes shape and revolves around a lecture given by Russell at an unnamed American university in 1939, a lecture that is really, as he himself tells us, the story of his life and of his pursuit of real logical truth. With Proustian ambition and exhilarating artwork, Logicomix's search for truth encounters head-on the horrors of the Second World War and the agonizing question of whether war can ever be the right choice. Russell himself had to confront that question personally: he endured six months in jail for his pacifism. Russell was determined to find the perfect logical method for solving all problems and attempted to remold human nature in his experimental school at Beacon Hill. Despite repeated failures, Russell never stopped being 'a sad little boy desperately seeking ways out of the deadly vortex of uncertainty.' The book is a visual banquet chronicling Russell's lifelong pursuit of 'certainty in total rationality.' As Logic and Mathematics, the last bastions of certainty, fail him, and as Reason proves not absolute, Russell is forced to face the fact that there is no Royal Road to Truth. Authors Doxiadis and Papadimitriou perfectly echo Russell's passion, with a sincere, easily grasped text amplified with breathtaking visual richness, making this the most satisfying graphic novel of 2009, a titanic artistic achievement of more than 300 pages, all of it pure reading joy."—Nick DiMartino, Shelf Awareness

"This is an extraordinary graphic novel, wildly ambitious in daring to put into words and drawings the life and thought of one of the great philosophers of the last century, Bertrand Russell. The book is a rare intellectual and artistic achievement, which will, I am sure, lead its readers to explore realms of knowledge they thought were forbidden to them."—Howard Zinn

"This magnificent book is about ideas, passions, madness, and the fierce struggle between well-defined principle and the larger good. It follows the great mathematicians—Russell, Whitehead, Frege, Cantor, Hilbert—as they agonized to make the foundations of mathematics exact, consistent, and complete. And we see the band of artists and researchers—and the all-seeking dog Manga—creating, and participating in, this glorious narrative."—Barry Mazur, Gerhard Gade University Professor at Harvard University, and author of Imagining Numbers (Particularly the Square Root of Minus Fifteen)

"The lives of ideas (and those who think them) can be as dramatic and unpredictable as any superhero fantasy. Logicomix is witty, engaging, stylish, visually stunning, and full of surprising sound effects, a masterpiece in a genre for which there is as yet no name."—Michael Harris, professor of mathematics at Université Paris 7 and member of the Institut Universitaire de France

"Quick—how much do you know about the life of Bertrand Russell? His childhood, his life, his loves . . . well, you're about to find out a lot more, in the form of a great new work called Logicomix. It's an intense journey, one that's filled with the huge allure of mathematics and logic, and it's—believe it or not—actually not dry or boring. And did I mention that for the most part, it's presented as a lecture given in a college hall? Really, I'm serious here—it's compelling, not dry . . . Logicomix is a rather thorough biography of Russell and several of the other greatest thinkers of the 20th century. A quite long afterword called 'Logicomix and Reality' explains all the places in which the book differs from the real world (there are several, but don't let that put you off). The afterword is actually so long and thorough that it further informs the reader on a wider array of facts. Terms and definitions are explored, along with other great minds. It's fascinating, even if your head does start to spin after a while. You don't have to be a mathematician or a logician to appreciate this book, which was a big bestseller in Greece last year. It begins in 1939, with Russell, on his way to speak to a group of university students, intercepted by war protestors who fully expect this man of peace to join their cause. Russell surprises them and invites them to attend his lecture as means of explanation. (That these rabid protestors, so angry and verbal, would sit quietly through such a long lecture is a little hard to believe, but it's beside the point.) I was immediately drawn into the fun little world of Logicomix. If it doesn't take history too seriously, it certainly does mind its Ps and Qs when it comes to science. And if you thought a comic could never teach you just what the incredible world of logic holds for you, think again. You'll be drawn in too."—John Hogan, Graphic Novel Reporter