Book Review – Logicomix: An Epic Search for the Truth

Written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou
Illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna

Bertrand Russell, British logician and philosopher spent his life in pursuit for truth and for a clear, logical system for understanding that truth. He began with the study of mathematics (until one of his own discoveries undermined the foundations of truth upon with math stood) and later integrating philosophical logic.

The graphic novel is interesting in the ways that it is layered — a story within a story within a story. It opens with the author of the graphic novel talking directly to the reader and explaining that this is a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell and going into the process of making the book. Then it shifts into the story itself with Russell meeting up with a group of antiwar protesters while on his way to giving a lecture on logic. The protesters call for him to join them, because he once protested against WWI when he was younger. Instead, he invites them to listen to his lecture, wherein he begins to tell his life story and how he began his life-long pursuit of truth. The graphic novel shifts back and forth through these layers of storytelling (and even eventually uncovers a fourth and arguably a fifth layer).

At first I was put off by the self-referential aspect of Logicomix. I didn’t like that the author and the artists interacted with the reader. However, I soon came to realize that including this multi-layer aspect to the graphic novel, not only allowed the authors to creatively explain certain aspects of logical theory that get lost in the storyline, but the layering actually begins to embody some of the logical theories being discussed.

The graphic novel in a sense contains itself, or at least the discussion of itself, which seems to touch upon “Russell’s Paradox”, a theory discussed in the book, and which I’m sure that I can’t rightly explain on my own. Honestly, thinking about it makes my head hurt, but it goes something like, if it contains itself, then it doesn’t; if it doesn’t, it does. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t ask me, because I can’t wrap my mind around it either.

Fortunately, Logicomix doesn’t dwell too much on the complexities of logic theory, but rather focuses on the people who developed them, what motivated them, and the conflict between thinking theory and trying to live it.

At the end of the graphic novel, the authors admit to bending some of the factual history to make for better storytelling and follow that up with a glossary of sorts that presented a slightly more in depth and factual look at the various logic theories and logicians that the readers encounter in the book.

Logicomix turned out to be a supremely fascinating book with gorgeous art and a passion for intellectual discovery. Definitely worth a read.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]