Math, Philosophy, Comics and Bertrand Russell’s Search for Truth

Publishers Weekly reports on an interesting new comic book centered on the life and work of philosopher Bertrand Russell.

In October Bloomsbury will publish Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou with the art team of Alecos Papdatos and Annie Di Donna, simultaneously in the U.S. and Britain as their lead book for the fall 2009 season.

While the life of Bertrand Russell is the core narrative of Logicomix, the book’s focus is really on Russell’s life work—a passionate and ultimately futile attempt to establish a foundation for modern mathematics on clear and concretely stated logic. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century Russell and other prominent mathematicians sought to establish a set of rigorously conceived logical proofs that would eliminate the paradox and circular logic typical of mathematics of the era. Logicomix is the story of that passionate search for philosophical truth and along the way documents both the efforts of Russell (in particular the writing of his seminal book Principia Mathematica coauthored with Alfred North Whitehead) and a long list of prominent turn-of-the century intellectuals who struggled with these questions in the pursuit of an unattainable intellectual dead certainty. In fact, Logicomix can be seen as a book about Russell’s failure to achieve his goals, even though his work laid the groundwork for mathematics and logic as we know them today. While the book is the story of extremely smart men wrestling intellectually with profound abstractions, Doxiadis, Papadimitriou and the artists have managed to produce an exuberant historical yarn filled with antic portrayals of an impressive list historical figures, men who either influenced Russell’s thinking, or argued passionately with him over their own conclusions and differences.

Indeed Logicomix ruminates on such figures as the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus and offers lively portrayals of the likes of such early 20th century intellectual figures as David Hilbert, Kurt Godel, Alfred North Whitehead and Ludwig Wittgenstein. But besides all that, Logicomix is an accessible general primer on basic mathematics, reason and logic that will engage ordinary readers while it skillfully shows the connections between Russell’s own search for intellectual certainty and the great moral questions of our time. Not a bad day’s work for a comic book.


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