Bertrand Russell’s mathematical quest adds up to unlikely graphic novel hit
Russell, who died aged 97 in 1970, is starring in a graphic novel based on his life, Logicomix, which portrays the great pacifist’s quest to pin down the foundations of mathematics. First published in Greece last year, where it has become an unexpected bestseller, Logicomix, subtitled An Epic Search for Truth, is the brainchild of maths expert and novelist Apostolos Doxiadis, who was admitted to Columbia University at the tender age of 15.
Covering a span of 60 years, it tells the story of Russell’s life, taking in his childhood, brought up by his grandparents after he was orphaned aged four, his four marriages, the writing of his great work Principia Mathematica, his rivalry with Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his quest for nuclear disarmament in the last decades of his life.
Peopled with his contemporaries – Alfred North Whitehead, with whom he co-authored Principia, Kurt Gödel, David Hilbert, Ludwig Wittgenstein – it charts the quest for knowledge that Russell described in his autobiography: “I have wished to understand the hearts of man. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.”
Doxiadis, the author of the novel Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, co-wrote Logicomix with Christos Papadimitriou, a computer scientist and novelist. The artwork was produced by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna. It will be published by Bloomsbury in September – the first adult graphic novel that Bloomsbury has published. “We have really high hopes for it,” said spokesperson Jude Drake. “It’s been on the bestseller lists for five months in Greece … It’s so accessible, even though it’s about logic and maths. It’s not preachy and it’s not technical – you fly through it.”
With publishers around the world – from China to Turkey, Israel to Italy – lining up to publish Logicomix, it has already won praise from authors and mathematicians. “The lives of ideas (and those who think them) can be as dramatic and unpredictable as any superhero fantasy. What could be more natural than a graphic novel to show how intellectual adventure plays out in the world of experience, with all its contradictions?” asked Michael Harris, a professor of mathematics at Université Paris 7 and member of the Institut Universitaire de France.
“This is an extraordinary graphic novel, wildly ambitious in daring to put into words and drawings the life and thought of one of the great philosophers of the last century,” said the historian Howard Zinn. “The book is a rare intellectual and artistic achievement which will, I am sure, lead its readers to explore realms of knowledge they thought were forbidden to them.”
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