I recently acquired a copy of Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, with art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna. It defies categorization: is it a comic book? A biography? A book of philosophy? Of history? Of mathematics? Well, it’s all of these things, and manages to pull it off with grace and style.
Logicomix is a graphic novel focusing on the story of Bertrand Russell, the English mathematician and philosopher, and the quest at the beginning of the twentieth century to discover a logically rigorous foundation for mathematics. This quest had a surprising outcome: in one sense, it was a failure; in another sense, it led directly to the development of computers! If you want to know what I mean… you’ll have to read the book.
It’s beatifully and smartly illustrated, and tells a riveting story, interspersed with meta-narrative about the authors of Logicomix and their process of planning and writing it. If you read Logicomix expecting a comprehensive mathematical history of this time period in comic book form, you’ll be disappointed. It really is telling the stories of the people involved, with big mathematical ideas explained as necessary (although the mathematical explanations it does include are creative and clear). Fortunately, the people are rather fascinating! Like E.T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics, Logicomix certainly dispels the myth that mathematicians are dull. Logicomix would make a great addition to any library, but I particularly recommend it to middle and high school teachers for lending to students!
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