Full-Color Mathematics: Reviewing Logicomix

You don’t necessarily think of graphic novels and the history of mathematical logic as things that would partner well, but Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth demonstrates just how seamlessly they can fit together. Written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, with art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna, Logicomix tells the life story of the great mathematical logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Some of the elements of this story are ones you might expect—Russell’s fear of inheriting his family’s mental illness, the effects of war, contemporary developments in mathematics, particularly Gödel’s incompleteness theorems—while others are more surprising. There are several interludes in the book where cartoon versions of the book’s creators muse explicitly on the best way to continue the story, and there is a rather smart section incorporating the Greek drama of Orestes. While these might seem overly clever, they actually work very well in context. The authors’ choice to focus on Russell’s quest for order through mathematics makes the book read as a compelling story, not a history text, and subtle changes in the vibrant, dynamic artwork help to set the appropriate pace. As for the book’s disparate elements, both the mathematical content and the graphic novel itself are handled quite well. The authors are not afraid to reference and explain fairly advanced concepts from math and formal logic, such as Hilbert’s hotel. And as mentioned above, the art works well with the prose and helps to set the mood and pace. An example of a scene where the mathematical content, prose, and art all function together perfectly would be the one excerpted above, courtesy of kk.org (click to view the image at a large size). Russell is detailing the famous Barber paradox to an audience, and while Russell is drawn fairly simply and in full color, the scenario he describes appears in black and white, sketched in a style somewhat reminiscent of a classic Popeye cartoon. Below, the authors and artists appear again in a simpler style and brighter colors, debating the efficacy of the scene. Throughout the book, this sort of creative styling keeps the explanations from getting dull and makes the book accessible to readers of a variety of mathematical backgrounds, without dumbing it down.  Overall, I definitely recommend it.


About Maya Sharma

Maya Sharma is studying for her MS in mathematics at Loyola University Chicago.
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