This innovative, dramatic graphic novel recounts the spiritual odyssey of philosopher Bertrand Russell. In his agonized search for absolute truth, Russell crosses paths with legendary thinkers and finds a passionate student in the great Ludwig Wittgenstein.
I liked the way the book was structured. I’ve always been a sucker for self-referential works. And encapsulating his story within a lecture given during a rather tumultuous time in our recent history was a stroke of genius.
I learned a lot about his history, not to mention the backgrounds of the other giants of mathematics during that time. And what a history! Madness, sex, war, imprisonment, etc… Who knew math was so filled with excitement and intrigue? I can see now I missed out by not majoring in mathematics. I could’ve had a really exciting life!
So why did I only give this book three stars? I think I was disappointed with the ending. I guess I had expected more of a bang. But now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I realize I liked it as a whole a lot more. So I’m going to go back and add another star.
I wish there were more graphic novels that dealt with such highbrow subjects as math, philosophy, etc… Or maybe there are. Anybody out there know of any? I’d love some recommendations.
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 is a book the 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.
That is, until Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth was published. By presenting Russell's passion for and struggle to discover the foundations of mathematics, I was able to circumvent this barrier and found an empathetic interest in the quest. I read it all in one sitting. Though, of course, the storytellers bend historical accounts and remain silent on more challenging mathematical substance, the graphic novel presents a clear picture of the essence of this epic search for truth. I often find myself flipping back to my favorite pages.
‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish! How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’
Logicomix has the admirable idea of presenting us, in comic form, with the story of the search for the logical underpinnings of mathematics in the early twentieth century, told mostly through the life of Bertrand Russell.
Usually, when this story comes up at all, it seems to be told by way of a prelude to the birth of computing (in, for instance, Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which rushes past Russell to get to Turing), so it was nice here to see it placed front and centre. And on the whole, the details of these often quite abstruse theoretical investigations are very well explained here, embedded as they are in the context of the main players' personal lives and professional rivalries.
I really love Bertrand Russell for the way that his professional logicalism did not impede his towering moral authority – he embodied a pacifistic, anti-authoritarian activism that was awakened during the First World War and that lasted until the end of his life, when he was still being dragged away from protests by police in his eighties. This moral sensibility takes a backseat to the quest for logic in the book, though it's definitely there – a framing story concerns Russell's feelings about pacifism in the 1939 war, and within the main story the authors are careful to show the effects of the first war on all the major characters.
I have to admit, with my ideal image of Russell in mind, it was painful for me to read about the way he behaved towards his first wife and his children, about which I knew nothing before I read this. The authors – as they themselves explain – are very concerned to make sure that this is a story about these mathematicians' and philosophers' private lives as well as their professional investigations. Though I have to admit, the drama in the forbidden relationships and family secrets never seemed quite as engaging to me as the actual nerdy stuff about logic.
I had lingering doubts as I read this of whether it was really suited to the comics form: somehow, it never really felt like it was playing to the strengths of the medium. I was also not convinced by the choice to include several metanarrational interludes in which the authors and illustrators talk about how best to tell the story; this seemed, on the whole, more of a distraction than anything else, although a final section set during a present-day production of the Oresteia is a tour-de-force.
There's lots to get out of this book and I'd definitely recommend it, but in the end it's one of those pieces that I admired more for its concept than its execution. Illogical perhaps – but that, as the book demonstrates, is to be expected.
Case in point: I studied Godel, and I have a bit more of the vaguest idea of what his proof did to Russel's efforts.
I can't say that the graphic novel is making a poor effort to explain it, but for really judging it, you need a complete newcomer to the field.
Find one, and ask him/her what he got from the book.
How many (newcomers) would buy the book in order to get a better understanding of Godel's Theorem? How many (of those who don't know it) would care even a little bit?
So, if you are "geek" and know the field already, it's interesting, if not "great".
For everyone else, I am afraid it will fail to even register.
Please prove me wrong... did you lend it to non-mathematically friends? With what results?
Either way, the result is a rather interesting novel-biography that not only has a fairly nice-looking art style to it, that is perhaps deliberately minimalistic to an extent to compliment the theme of "pure simplicity" that the authors imply at least some mathematicians wish to attain, and also has a lovely amount of detail to the settings and inspired interpretations of actual philosophers (seeing Wittgenstein's huge eyes was fairly enjoyable from the moment he entered the stage), but is also a great, "user-friendly" introduction to mathematics in general and an enjoyable exploration into what it means to be a mathematician, philosopher, analytic, or anyone interested in "certain truth" really. Two other great themes behind the book, I'd say, is that it A) Gives readers characters to relate to with its makers, as the authors and artists often chime in to break the fourth wall and show their reactions to various events throughout the book and discussions on how to best write it, and (B) Shows how math truly is 'everywhere'. I had heard about this before in a TED Talk, but it wasn't until Wittgenstein started comparing language to abstract symbols and Russel discussed his attempts to utilize logic as a pacifist to solve the political problems of the two world wars that I truly began to get a better understanding of what this idea means.
All in all, it's a delight to read with a unique premise that is actually pulled very well off. If you're at all surprised by the notion of a math book that is also a page-turner and character study, then you may want to take a look into this book.
But the fourth wall breaking just seems precious and the inclusion of the Oresteia muddled and pretentions.
The changes in clothing and hairstyles during the course of the narrative are entertaining. The various characters are drawn well, or at least in a way that seems to resemble the way they appeared in real life. The young Russel is probably a bit too handsome.
1) The artist has the meager ability to draw every character from the exact same static angle for over 300 pages. The art is so repetitive that it makes you beg for a half-adept college student with a clip-art library and photoshop.
Emotions represented range from: disinterested to less-disinterested with the occasional Mr Potato-Head eyes-drawn-downward angry face.
2) The life of Bertrand Russell is interesting enough to not have to pretentiously interject the multiple authors' own struggles into this semi-fictionalized biography. I'm not exaggerating with I say this constitutes almost a quarter of the book or more.
3) There are made-up meetings for the convenience of not having to write/draw an accurate or true story. The authors admit they did this solely for dramatic effect (and convenience), going as far as arranging the hero to meet with another famous mathematician that was already dead at the time of their meeting. This is a measure of laziness that is kind-of appalling and, I would argue, is a disservice to a man as incredible as Bertrand Russell.
4) I can't express in words how annoying the authors of this story are. They constantly interrupt the biography of a man that is so much more interesting than the whiny, pretentious, argumentative dialogue of a bunch of west-coast yuppies. The artist at one point even dedicates an ENTIRE PAGE to show the opulent mountain-top condo of a Berkeley professor waxing semi-philosophical as he enjoys a fine cabernet (p208). The characters/authors so reek of false-humility, they ruin any insight their characters might have given the reader. In attempting to appear SO humble in their story, they actually come across as the exact opposite.
5) Its awful. This book is not well-written and whatever research the authors did is made moot by the sheer amount of fabricated events portrayed in this book. I feel that I learned more about the minutia of the authors daily struggles in writing this book than i did about Bertrand Russell's anti-war activism, atheism, or politics.
Please read the "Introducing:" series or books instead, or perhaps "... For Beginners".
Math nerds, UNITE!--and read this enthralling graphic meta-novel (about the writing of a graphic novel) about logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell's search for an inarguable mathematical foundation for reality, and the price he paid for the journey. Don't think that since the subject matter seems heavyweight that the art and framing will underwhelm, because the illustrators demonstrate the same respect for reason that the authors do.
In the end, though, I didn’t find this to rise as high as some exemplars of the comic-book format, like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Persepolis/Persepolis II by Marjane Satrapi, and Maus/Maus II by Art Spiegelman. The story is good, the art is good, both together are better than either alone, yet somehow it never became far more than the sum of its parts, as the above titles did for me. Logicomix is entertaining, provocative, educational and very good, even as I felt it didn’t quite achieve the true greatness of its subjects.
The art is excellent. The story is well written. I didn't really like the back and forth between Bertrand Russell's story and the narration by the authors, but it wasn't overly interruptive and tolerable. The best parts of the story for me were the explorations into the links between madness and those who strive to make rational sense of the world. The book touches on this in several places, but I wouldn't have minded an even deeper exploration into that theme. But as it is, a really enjoyable story that makes Russell's life, Logic, and Math interesting.
The graphical format is both unique and entertaining. The interplay of the various characters with the work of Bertrand Russell was very nicely done.
The intertwined themes of madness and logic was emotionally touching and quite thought provoking.
Ambitious as the book is, I find it guilty of overreaching and spreading itself too thin. For example, the overwrought presence of the narrator and confused distinction between plot and subplot weakened the narrative. On the plus side, the art is meticulously done, and the close interplay of text and image really speaks to the volumes of the work that went into this book.
Generally, I don't read fast, but I read this in a few sittings.
That dialogue is attributed to Bertrand Russell in this graphic-format, quasi-fictionalized* biography of the man -- particularly the math, history and philosophy of his quest for an adequate representation of reality and source of absolute truth, and his struggle to prove that his found source (logic) begets the answer to every question.
Geometry was the first math I loved and while I admit to hovering over the math here (and the philosophy) more than fully understanding it, it was fun to be hovering over Wittgenstein (and sad to be connecting math-greatness with mental illness) both here and in my concurrent reading of D.T. Max's biography of David Foster Wallace. I enjoyed the introduction to so many historical philosophers and I enjoyed the storytelling -- watching the authors and illustrators break the “fourth wall” of the story to address the reader directly or talk amongst themselves about math/philosophy and how to best present the material.
*The authors have gotten some grief for choosing to “select, reduce, simplify, interpret, and, very often, invent” Russell’s life to better tell this story, but for me it worked in their quest for the “truth” (i.e. vs. the “facts”). On the other hand, does embellishment contradict the concept of “proof”?