Logicomix : [an epic search for truth]

by Apostolos K. Doxiadēs

Paper Book, 2009




New York ; London : Bloomsbury, 2009.


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.

Media reviews

LJ Best Graphic Novels 2009: "This biography of the troubled and driven Bertrand Russell packs in a surprisingly entertaining introduction to academia’s Big Ideas of Truth and Meaning by focusing on the thinkers and their passions. Fascinating and charming, with deft color art"
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Logicomix grippingly recounts the turmoil of the 20th-century logical world.
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.)

User reviews

LibraryThing member beelzebubba
I love graphic novels. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. And when I saw this one come through the library where I work, I was intrigued by the title and cover. And when I glanced through it, and saw that it was about Bertrand Russell, that was it: I started reading it immediately.

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.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
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 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.
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LibraryThing member pbradley85
I came to Logicomix from a relatively more classical and continental philosophical education, which is to say that my knowledge of the analytical tradition was rather naive. The philosophy of mathematics, in particular, was largely nonexistent to me. Certainly, I was aware of Bertrand Russell in a more general sense as an influential philosopher but I found some of those who championed him to be condescending and myopic. I came across what seemed to be an impenetrable barrier of logocentricism that dissuaded from reading the philosopher for myself.

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.
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LibraryThing member Widsith
‘Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoan to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoan, who gives us this assurance.’
—Bertrand Russell

‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish! How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’
—EM Forster

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.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
This book was okay. It's a comic that straddles historical fiction and biography, providing the life story of Bertrand Russell as well as some background in developments of logic in the early twentieth century. It's occasionally interrupted by pages where the creators of the comic discuss creating the comic. These moments I found twee and not very insightful. The main story is fine, though not very deep, and I was irritated at the number of things the creators outright made up yet still ascribe character significance to-- the whole book is driven by a dichotomy between madness and logic in Russell's life that has no basis in reality.… (more)
LibraryThing member pamar
While I commend the effort, I wonder who the supposed audience for this Graphic Novel really is.
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?
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LibraryThing member burnit99
You might think that a graphic novel in which the mature Bertrand Russell, in 1939, gives a talk on "The Role of Logic in Human Affairs" would be a real snoozer. Actually a lot of people would; this book isn't for everyone. But I was fascinated by how Russell used the story of his life and quest for higher mathematical and logical truth to relate to the then-burning question of whether the USA should intervene in the developing European War. I remember in college in the early '70's that Bertrand Russell had a devoted following who had elevated him to near-saintly status; he comes across here as a flawed genius whose devotion to logic shook the world of epistemological thought. A fascinating and well-constructed look in graphic novel form at a complex man and scholar -- but if your college philosophy classes put you to sleep, don't bother.… (more)
LibraryThing member nickphilosophos
I don't read graphic novels very often, but this one is about Bertrand Russell-- so I had to. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The artwork is wonderful and the story-line is engaging. The explanation of his work and its importance to modern day is well thought out. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy, mathematics or a wonderful read.… (more)
LibraryThing member MMMMTOASTY
The idea behind Logicomix in and of itself is fairly unique and hard to imagine (which I suppose lends itself well to the novel's theme of reality sometimes being a rather big object of uncertainty that is difficult to represent through abstraction, and that this may or may not lead to, or arise from, mental complications such as neuroticism), being a pseudo biography of (mostly mathematical) philosopher Bertrand Russel and his attempts to build foundations for mathematics with other big figures in this field at the time, such as Wittgenstein and Kurt Godel, that is also a graphic novel. I say pseudo biography because the authors are clear to point out that they've taken some liberties with Russel's life to make it seem more like an actual novel or story rather than a non-fictional biography. This isn't to say it's a complete "what if" kind of novel, as the story does in fact follow Russel's life accurately for the most part, especially when it comes to his and other philosophers' main arguments, but some meetings between characters in the story are either loosely supported by real evidence, or probably untrue.

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.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
A useful book, as it helps to arrange the stories of various mathematicians into some sort of coherent whole. For a person who is already acquainted with the contributions of these various mathematicians there is a lot of value.

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.
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LibraryThing member MattRaygun
This book is awful. Its awful for these reasons:
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".
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LibraryThing member wouterzzzzz
Excellent graphic novel about Bertrand Russell. The way the story is told is very interesting: not only do we see images of the past, with all main characters in logic, but these images are mixed with images of the authors of the book: their discussions on which parts of history to include, and why (or why not). This combination gives a very dynamic way of receiving the infoamtion present in the book. Besides this style, the book itself contains a lot of information, both on the characters and their research topics.… (more)
LibraryThing member HHS-Staff
Reviewed by Mr. Overeem (Language Arts)
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member lt999
I enjoyed this book. You get a glimpse of mainly who Bertrand Russell was or more accurately might have been and his quest for the foundation of mathematics. You also get introduced to logic, set theory, Russell's paradox and many other famous mathematicians. It's a quick read and definitely different and entertaining.
LibraryThing member Girl_Detective
The authors do an admirable job of portraying both the characters involved in the evolution of logic and mathematics, and in the explication of some complex examples of both, which could easily have bogged down the narrative, which instead proceeds at a lively clip. Russell is a typical hero in the classic mode: orphaned, struggling in childhood with overbearing adults, moving on to his quest (for the foundations in logic), struggling with monsters (a streak of mental illness in his family, also found frequently in his colleagues), and, as in the real world, coming to an end that is both happy and sad, depending on how one views it, but certainly complex. It’s because of Russell and his colleague’s heroic narrative that Doxiadis thought to make the story in comic-book form, which works well. The art is clear and easy to read. while also embodying at times more than one level of meaning.

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.
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LibraryThing member sylliu
Logicomix is a fascinating introduction to the life and ideas of mathmetician/philosopher Bertrand Russell, told in graphic novel form. The book impressively and ambitiously captures the tumult and passions of the search for the foundations of mathematics and logic in the early 20th century, and throws in romance, madness, history, and the Greek play Oresteia. A neat trick that keeps the story is accessible is when the authors and illustrators insert themselves at various points in the story, debating how to present it most effectively.… (more)
LibraryThing member ironicqueery
As someone who studied Philosophy and Logic in college, I appreciated this graphic novel. Logicomix tries to explain a fairly complicated subject, Logic and Mathematics, and succeeds fairly well.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member pokylittlepuppy
Secret Santa office present! Well can you still call it that when it was one of those Yankee Swap debacles? I will still call it that because I'd rather not acknowledge the Yankee Swap debacle. Anyway good present..Interesting to read, since I am easily impressed by serious work in math. I am easily doubtful, though, too.I like all the pieces in this book a lot. I like comics and I like nonfiction and biography and even the philosophy lessons, and I like the Oresteia and meta-discussion about what's come after this work of Bertrand Russell's. Unfortunately the more kinds of things there were the less I was sure what the book was meant to be like. So I started to miss things -- Is it bad I don't really understand Russell's Paradox? Why the Greek tragedy, exactly? Where did the story of the second half of Russell's life go?Particularly, I liked the thematic connection made to the invention of the computer, and the idea of Russell's eventual theoretic victory being proved in that field. I wish there'd been more about it here -- perhaps the creators really are working on a follow-up on that subject, as they meta-joked they could, but if not it seems a missed opportunity to bring it all home. Web programmers I know are interested in the book for these reasons too. It's definitely meaningful.Probably worth a reread one day.… (more)
LibraryThing member PLReader
This is an outstanding presentation of the mathematical and philosophical views at the beginning of the 20th Century.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member jasonli
"Logicomix" is a graphic biography of renowned philosopher Bertrand Russell. The book is ambitious in its aims -- to paint a portrait of Russell's life, to introduce readers to his works and to examine the link between madness and the pursuit of logic. Doxiadis, Papadimitriou and co. tell a story from their own point of view as enthusiasts trying to unravel a puzzle; the team behind the book make frequent cameos throughout the book (almost overtaking it in parts).

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.
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LibraryThing member Parthurbook
A perfect blending of ideas and graphic story-telling. A fictionalised biography of Bertrand Russell, it manages to embrace the thinking of most C20th mathematical and philosophical giants - Russell, Whitehead, Hibbert, Cantor, Wittgenstein, Godel, right up to Turing - inside a compelling argument. Rather brilliantly, the creators of the book use narrative and design tropes to present as well as explain the big ideas, ultimately leaving some important questions unanswered - which is rather the point. Challenging, nourishing, entertaining.… (more)
LibraryThing member agdturner
A great concept and well executed - this is the only comic book type novel with an academic central theme that I know of. I found it hard to put down, but nicely broken into chapters and interwoven with commentary type narrative and the story of the development of computer algorithms based around Bertrand Russell's personal voyage of discovery, (Russell was one of the key polymaths involved). It covers many things in an interesting time in history and the development of mathematics and the search for truth. As a computer programmer and graduate student in computability and unsolveability this was a refreshing revision and an interesting look at the psychology and characters involved. The definitions section appended to the main comic is both useful and complimentary.

Generally, I don't read fast, but I read this in a few sittings.
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LibraryThing member DetailMuse
Geometry showed me the only way toward reality: Reason. In it, I encountered for the first time the delicious experience of knowing something with total certainty. Proof thus became my Royal Road to Truth.

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”?
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LibraryThing member franoscar
I loved this book. It is great. It is wonderfully conceived and wonderfully executed. The drawing is great and draws the reader in to the situations and the characters. The writing is great too. Could be a spoiler: I'm a little leery of the ending with its seeming conclusion that computers have changed everything. I want to think more about what seems to be the moral teaching of the story, which I guess is engagement in the world on a human level, away from abstractions and theories...and maybe that it is abstractions and theories that lead to the bad things in the world. I think I will read it again before I return it to the library.… (more)
LibraryThing member ProfMK
I love this kind of comic book philosophy. It sort of follows Wittgensteins advice to try & reduce philosophy to some kind of joke


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