The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 12 | “Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth” GN review

Leaving Proof 12 | “Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth” GN review
Published on Thursday, October 21, 2010 by

[Author’s note: The text in this article originally appeared on on 15 September 2010 and may have had its content changed or edited since its initial online publication]

Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth
  • (Bloomsbury USA, 2009; 352 pages)
  • Writers: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou
  • Pencils: Alecos Papadatos
  • Colours: Annie Di Donna
  • Inks: Dimitris Karatzaferis and Thodoris Paraskevas
  • Visual Researcher/Letterer: Anne Bardy
  • Cover Price: $22.95 US

Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth is a graphic novel-format biography of the great analytic philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell, who is perhaps the most influential thinker of the 20th century. Looking at the book on the shelf at my local book dealer, I couldn’t help but feel that I was the perfect audience for this work, having been introduced to Russell at an early age (a well-meaning uncle lent me a copy of Russell’s ABC of Relativity when I was nine… it would be another six years before I’d even begin to understand what it was about), as well as having taken various logic, linguistics, and discrete mathematics courses in college, and perhaps most importantly, being a life-long fan of the comic book medium. After reading it though, I wonder if there’s an audience for it at all.

The problem with the graphic novel is that the authors seem to be confused as to what they want the work to be. It swings back-and-forth from being a historical account of Russell’s life, to an introductory lesson in the basics of analytic philosophy and mathematical and symbolic logic, to a self-referential examination of the graphic novel-in-progress. In my opinion, it falters in its efforts to achieve the first two goals and only really succeeds at accomplishing the third.

As a historical account of Russell’s life, the authors cover the basics, and even include information that I previously did not know about the man (such as Russell’s longstanding fear of going insane). However, in the post-script to the book, the authors file a disclaimer saying that many of the events depicted in the book, particularly meetings between Russell and the other great minds of his time, did not really occur and were fashioned to give “greater coherence and narrative depth” to the comic book. To their credit though, Doxiadis and Papadimitriou avoid giving Russell a hagiographical treatment. His documented and admitted flaws as a husband and father are given coverage, but the authors do a fine job of avoiding sensationalizing his indiscretions.

At times, the book also attempts to introduce some of the fundamental ideas that Russell worked from and the ones that he introduced. However, despite (or perhaps because of) the authors’ expertise in matters of mathematical/symbolic logic (Doxiadis majored in mathematics in college, Papadimitriou is a theoretical computer scientist at UCLA), there is very little explanation as to why Russell’s ideas were so important and why they continue to be so important in modern analytics and mathematics. The authors missed a perfect opportunity to use the visual medium of comics to make Russell’s ideas more tangible to readers with no innate inclination towards or formal schooling in philosophy, logic, and mathematics. For instance, Set Theory and Russell’s Paradox could have been illustrated with the use of diagrams and other visual devices. Instead, the creative team is content to use panel upon panel of talking heads weighed down by intimidatingly dense word balloons.

But my biggest problem with the book is the creative team’s insertion of themselves into the narrative, talking about the content of the book and giving a play-by-play account of the process of creating the book in between depictions of scenes from Russell’s life. Not only is it distracting, it also confirms the suspicion that the authors couldn’t agree on what direction to take the title. I am not sure if this feature is supposed to be a commentary on self-referentialism, but it only serves to muddy up a book that already seems confused in its goals and its approach to them.

The husband and wife team of Papadatos and Di Donna on the art are the book’s high point. Their work reminds me of Hergé’s Tin Tin and in spite of the rather laborious and dense dialogue crowding the panels, they manage to make the pages interesting to look at.

As ambitious as it is in scope and as significant the subject matter is, I just can’t recommend this book. The intent behind it is admirable, but the execution is flawed at best. I found it to be a tedious read, offering little in the way of new perspectives (or even a single coherent one) on Russell or his work.

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