Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Logicomix

Much to my own surprise, one of the best things I've read recently has been a graphic novel, but that's probably because Logicomix is in a class of its own.

Like many graphic novels, the hero is an outsider who has extraordinary mental powers and is obsessed with the fight for justice. However, as heroes go, he is somewhat atypical:

You would think that Bertrand Russell's struggle to make the foundations of mathematics logically consistent doesn't lend itself to the graphic novel format. Judge Dredd, yes. Bertrand Russel, no. But Logicomix is a triumph. It takes a broad brush approach to big, complicated ideas and instead of dumbing them down, it manages to gives the reader a clear, concise overview of intellectual developments in Europe during the fin de siecle.

That may sound very dull, but what makes Logicomix so interesting is the human story behind Russell's intellectual journey. It is the story of man who, on discovering that his family have been beset by mental illness, seeks sanctuary in the study of logic.

I bought Logicomix after reading a rave review in one of the Sunday papers, but had some reservations about the graphic novel format for a book about Bertrand Russell. Fortunately, the authors anticipated their readers' concerns and on page two, they wrote:

"This isn't a typical comic book. In fact, when we started work on it, our friends thought we were crazy! And when they did take us seriously, it was, as a rule, for the wrong reasons, like thinking the book is something it's not! Like, maybe a 'Logic For Dummies' type of thing or perhaps a kind of textbook or a treatise, in the unlikely guise of a graphic novel."

Logicomix may not be a "Logic for Dummies", but it is a "Bertrand Russell for Dummies". That isn't a bad thing. In less than two hours of reading, I effortlessly gained an overview of Russell's life, the part he played in Wittgenstein's intellectual develoment and the state of mathematics in the Edwardian era.

I can't see myself turning into "Comic Book Guy" from The Simpsons, but Logicomix has been a revelation.

5 comments:

depesando said...

This has exceptional reviews when it came out and I meant to get it then, thanks for reminding me!

John Self said...

I bought this a month or two ago and it's been glaring at me over its dominos ever since, so I must now pull it out and read it over the hols.

JRSM said...

You'd probably really enjoy 'The Handcuff King', by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi as well: a graphic biography of Houdini in a similar-ish vein: sample pages at http://www.nickbertozzi.com/comics/houdini/houdini.htm

Bertozzi's 'The Salon', a murder mystery about the birth of modern art, starring Satie, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Georges Braque and a hell of a lot of absinthe, is also well worth a look.

Art said...

Huh, not what I would have expected at all...I've always been a little suspicious of the graphic novels. "The Salon" JRSM mentioned sounds just my speed though

Steerforth said...

Thanks for the Bertozzi link - I now know what my Christmas present to myself will be.