Yesterday’s mail contained my copy of Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth, a graphic novel by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou with art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna. It is scheduled to be released in the US on September 29, but amazon.ca apparently already had it. The UK edition is now sold out (a second printing is scheduled to be in stores October 2). It’s a compelling read for everyone interested in logic and its history, or in Bertrand Russell, or in intelligent graphic novels.
The main story arc consists in Russell giving a lecture on “The Role of Logic in Human Affairs” at “an American university” (looks like Berkeley) just after the start of WWII (September 1939). In the lecture, he tells the story of his own life, how his quest for finding certain truth led him to a study of the foundations of mathematics, discovering logic, writing Principia Mathematica with Whitehead, meeting Wittgenstein, the inter-war years with the Tractatus, the Vienna circle, and Gödel—and his personal life. There’s a lot about madness and logic, the conflicts within logicians between their work and their passions, about struggle and failure. All this is interleaved with a frame story in which the authors of the book discuss what they’re trying to do in the book, explain some mathematical details, and reflect on the story that Russell’s telling his audience, ending with a … well, I don’t want to give it away.
The book is very well done overall: it’s an engaging read, the art is great, the logic and philosophy are accurate for the most part. There’s a lot of license taken with historical details, but that usually makes for a better story. My favorite is the barfight between adherents of Poincaré and of Hilbert at the 1900 International Congress of Mathematicians. And, truth be told, you don’t have to take much license with many of the characters in this story to make them compelling—think Wittgenstein:
There was only one thing that really bothered me: they claim—not just in the story but also in the otherwise informative background section at the end of the book—that Hilbert sent his son Franz off to an asylum when Franz was 15, that Franz spent the rest of his life there, and that Hilbert never visited him. But at least according to Constance Reid’s biography of Hilbert, a) that happened when Franz was 21, b) he was in treatment only until 1917, and c) thereafter lived with the Hilberts again. I’m also no great fan of the title (it’s about as unimaginative as “LogBlog” is for a logic blog). But: I am a fan of the book. Finally a logic book for the coffee table! I might even assign it for a history of logic class. Get your copy, it’s even pretty reasonably priced at about $15 on amazon.com.
The website has a preview and some additional information, including nice pictures of the original locations. Feel free to reply with your own opinions, speculations, and queries about the historical details and I’ll see if I can fact-check them…
UPDATE: There’s a book tour which includes a stop at the LA public library, with Zlatan Damnjanovic (USC Philosophy) on Oct 7 and one at MSRI (pronounced “misery”, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in the Berkeley hills) with Paolo Mancosu (Berkeley Philosophy) on Oct 19.
UPDATE: More on the logic and madness theme here.