Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth


When I found out that a graphic novel about the life of Bertrand Russell was in the works, I imagined it would be interesting, but I never thought it would be as spellbinding as it turned out to be. Logicomix, created by a team of Greek artists and writers is full color graphic novel about Bertrand Russell and his ardent quest for the logical foundation of mathematics. The creators of the graphic novel put themselves into the story, between chapters of Russell's life, to discuss their thoughts on key moments. It's a clever and useful way to add additional context to the story.

The book is 352 pages long -- 10 pages less than what it took Russell and Whitehead to prove that 1+1 = 2 in their book Principia Mathematica, but I was tearing through it to find out what happened. Afterwards, I went back to admire the artwork, which is masterfully composed and filled with terrific architecture and other detials. All-in-all, this was a surprisingly terrific book.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth



  1. Does the book explain how Godel dismantled Russell’s life work irrevocably? It’s a pretty important lesson that Russell _should_ have learned…

  2. Russell and Whitehead and Hegel and Kant:
    Maybe I shall, and maybe I shan’t.
    Maybe I shan’t, and maybe I shall:
    Kant, Russell, Whitehead, Hegel et al.
                —The Space Child’s Mother Goose

  3. Personally, I recommend this one. It’s a fun read, and has a compelling story. Though it’s a bit more self-referential than I bargained for.

  4. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; that’s what graphic novels are turning into. And the problem is, it may be “medicine”, it may be “poison”, it may be nothing. I happen to think this is a good topic though.

  5. Anonymous #1: Russell’s work led to Gödel’s work; Gödel built on Russell. The comic illustrates Russell’s paradox about the set of all sets not containing themselves. The Principia Mathematica was an attempt to eliminate this problem by eliminating self-reference, and Gödel showed how to re-introduce self-reference in a way that cannot be defeated. But Gödel couldn’t have accomplished what he did without building on Russell.

    And now you arrogantly state that there’s an important lesson that Russell should have learned. But Russell learned it when the rest of the world did, when Gödel shared it.

    Furthermore, the fact that Russell didn’t succeed in his principal aim (to construct a paradox-free foundation for mathematics) doesn’t eliminate the value of the Principia Mathematica.

  6. I bought it and knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the subject. I mean nothing. I had seen a panel on a website and noticed the word Tautology and had no idea what it meant. I looked the word up to see what it meant then I read a snippet about the comic and decided to get it.

    I read it straight through in one sitting. I was and am fascinated by it. I had always assumed math had been figured out thousands of years ago and that the rules were set and were unquestionable. I had no idea so much had happened so recently, relatively.

    I feel like I’ve discovered a hidden history, hidden to me, that I am going to read up on.

    I’ve lent it out a few times already.

  7. I don’t know where the claim that Whitehead and Russell proved 1 + 1 = 2 on page 342 comes from– but in fact the proof of 1 + 1 = 2 occurs on page 83 of Volume 2. Since Volume 1 has 674 pages, you’re off by about a factor of two. For the record, 1 + 1 = 2 is theorem *110.643– W&R comment “The above proposition is occasionally useful. It is used at least three times, in *113.66 and *120.123.472.”

    1. He said “342 pages to prove it.”

      Anyways, all of this makes me realize what it must feel like for my mother to try and use the computer. Fish out of water.

      1. Even leaving out introductory and expository stuff it takes some 600 pages for W&R to get to 1 + 1 = 2. It should be said that modern theories of cardinal addition get to that point a lot faster– and then go on to the interesting stuff involving infinite cardinals and ordinals. Also, Whitehead and Russell put a lot of effort into proving all the statements they will need in propositional logic, but in the modern world we just look at truth tables.

  8. Hi Matt — I think I was off by 10 pages or so, not 300. But if you are correct you should clean up the error on Wikipedia!

    “From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has been defined, that 1+1=2.” – Volume I, 1st edition, page 379 (page 362 in 2nd edition; page 360 in abridged version).

    1. It’s a somewhat obscure point because nowadays, numbers are defined a la von Neumann as specific sets– e.g., 0 = empty set, 1 = ‘the set whose only member is the empty set’ = {empty set}, 2 = {{empty set}, empty set}, and so forth. But I’ll look at the Wikipedia entry and see if it’s misleading.

  9. Russell could be brilliant but there’s a few of his ideas I’m glad we didn’t adopt.
    In the essay “The Future of Mankind” he argued that the U.S. and Britain should use their military edge and the bomb to attack Russia and unify the world under one government.
    His essay “The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed” should be read by everyone. He nails a very widespread bit of fuzzy thinking that was being applied to many.

  10. How much of a look-in does Frege get here? From the various descriptions it seems like he’s not getting quite the amount of credit he deserves.

    1. The book is a mathatical biography of Russell, and it takes as its first high point Russell’s letter to Frege, and it looks at the mental illness so common among logicians. It doesn’t go into Cantor, Frege, or especially Gödel in enough detail to really be a comprehensive story about mathematical logic, but the narrative holds together very well, so I’d definitely recommend it.

  11. One of the two authors here, Christos Papadimitriou, is known not for his writing or illustrations, but for his work in theoretical computer science. Just some relevant credentials that were missing.

  12. @ Joe

    No arguments from me on any of your points. After re-reading my post (and yours) I realize that my question came off as rhetorical. I actually was/am wondering if/how the book portrays Russell’s reaction when his proposition was disproved Godel.

    Thanks for your post as it did lead me to do a little more digging on BR. Cheers.

  13. One of the authors, Apostolos Doxiadis, wrote “Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture: A Novel of Mathematical Obsession” which is a delicious book about the nature of mathematical genius, family relationships and complex mathematical concepts.

    It is what the horrible “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” should have been.

  14. I am straying into politics here, but it is related.
    This graphic novel reinforces Bertrand Russell’s status as an intellectual hero. The truth is more complicated.
    He was for “scientific” and “logical” SLAVERY through horrific social engineering techniques. His work in mathematics might be significant but, like many others, politically, he took “logic” too far to where it seems “logical” to enslave the majority of the planet for the pleasure of a select few. He was a Fabian Socialist (for slow and incremental rise of global authoritarian governence) and supported the destruction of families in favor of State influence over the individual and the futher development of the worldwide scientific dictatorship, a New World Order, over the global population using psychological mass mind control techniques as late as 1953. In particular, read “Proposed Roads to Freedom” (1918) and “The Impact of Science on Society” (1953).

  15. While the Fabians had tremendous problems, mostly the fact that they saw an entrenched wealthy class voluntarily giving up their power by reform… i don’t think it was their belief in socialism that would give rise to a “new world order” in the way you think… capitalism has already created a world order, it is in desperate need of a new and better order anyways.

    The thing people don’t understand about the idea of a state, is; whose state is it? What is a state? A state is an institution of one class to oppress another. We currently live in a state where the wealthy live parasitically off of those who do the work. Socialism would be a worker’s state, meaning those who do the work decide how that work is done, yes its oppressing the wishes of the wealthy who wish to exploit that work, but too many years of unemployment and seeing Detroiter’s live like rats, makes think they deserve a little oppression.

    Also a worker’s state would be the first state in history where where the government is run by the majority, where the oppression of the privileged is used to benefit and raise up the overwhelmingly vast number of people who live in utter poverty. As people are given an equal playing field, class would disappear and so would the state as there would be no exploitation to enforce. Bosses would cease to exist, replaced by administrative workers who would have no more authority over a person then anyone else in society would have.

    What happened in Russia, which is always the crap people bring up, was the work of capitalism, not those who tried to free the Russian people from the czar or foreign investors who were turning Russia into a wasteland in world war one. Stalin was the best thing that ever happened to Britain and American Capitalists. It meant that all their effort to crush the revolution was not in vain. They had succeeded in destroying so much of the infrastructure of the country, reducing to almost nothing. Imagine if there was no roads, no electricity, everyone in the cities had fled to the country just to eat due to a famine (induced by foriegn backed civil war and a blockaid, which united “bitter” enemies like Germany and Japan with France and England… its funny how things work out when rich people see poor people doing something), imagine if the town you lived in was in this situation, imagine trying to conduct voting and elect people and run a government when anyone who could, was trying to get the hell out just to survive, who could think of discussing which political positions should be taken, when they couldn’t find enough bread to fill their aching bellies! If you look at the government after the insurrection but before the civil war, you see a government which is the freest government the world has seen since we stepped out of tribal life. Women were given the right to divorce, equal pay and voting rights… well before the “developed world”, they allowed any country which had been conquered by the czar to leave and form their own government, which some did, some didn’t. They based their government around soviets. Soviet isn’t another word for Russian, it means council. Councils at workplaces, in the army and amongst the peasants, councils of producers and councils of consumers, who argued openly about how to proceed, a lively and well functioning worker’s democracy.

    After the civil war… chaos, absolute and utter chaos. Millions had died in the service of the Entente in WW1, their was already a widespread collapse of industry and the railroad supply system under pressure of war.

    After the civil war, nothing really remained. The money was worthless, they couldn’t buy anything anyways because they had an embargo and block aid put on them. They were forced to give up most of the Ukraine to end WW1, which was where much of the grain and oil was… they encountered privileged elements emboldened by civil war, sabotaging industry at every moment, dragging their feet, speculating and stealing food. They had to rely on these same elements to develop industry because their was no education system for the masses under the czar. No way of educating new people in areas of specialty. They were trapped. Either complete failure of the revolution, and the return of Masters and slaves, complete with bloody retribution, or the communists must take control themselves.

    The Bolsheviks took control over government or it would collapse. In doing so they appointed people they trusted, and they appointed people they trusted, well with so few people around that had any competency in the actual day to day running of things, eventually a lot of untrustworthy people slipped in. A bureaucracy developed. Lenin, and Trotsky warned, that if there wasn’t another revolution (their hope was Germany), the bureaucracy would swallow the revolution and the Communist Party. The revolution in Germany failed and the Communist Party were eaten whole. Stalin became the representation of this bureaucracy, and killed off nearly every member of the old Bolsheviks who helped bring about the revolution, with the participation of foreign backing. Stalin was won over to the idea of nationalism, and turned his back on the laboring people of the world.

    Sorry to rant, but with a looming depression people need to know their history and quit all this red baiting bullshit that has spread like wildfire.

  16. Russell lived to be 97 years old. His opinions changed a lot over that time. I just finished the book, and it is wonderful, telling his story up to the beginning of WW2. Sure, Russell said some off-colour things but this is the story of his life, to enjoy it you don’t have to hero worship him (though I do).

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