Logicomix: an Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou

This is an entertaining, fast-moving graphic novel (a very thick comic book) that tells the story of Bertrand Russell’s attempt to provide logical foundations for mathematics and also find a path to absolute certainty about the world. It is presented in the form of a public lecture given by Russell, in which Russell talks about his life and the recent history of mathematics and logic.  

The authors admit that this is a work of fiction, since some of the history has been changed for dramatic purposes or ease of exposition. But the work of great mathematicians, logicians and philosophers, including Cantor, Frege, Poincare, Hilbert, Wittgenstein, Godel and Turing, is accurately summarized. One theme in the novel is the apparent association between logical and mathematical skill and insanity. 

There are also interludes that feature the authors and artists working on the book — an act of self-reference that fits very nicely with the main theme of the novel — and attending performances of Greek tragedy in Athens.  

In general, the writing is better than the artwork, in particular because the characters’ facial expressions lack subtlety.  

There is also a helpful addendum that describes some of the main characters and concepts (one of the authors is a professor of computer science at Berkeley)This is how Godel’s proof of the Incompleteness Theorem is summarized: “Godel proved his Incompleteness Theorem by creating … a statement that … essentially says, in the language of arithmetic, ‘this statement is unprovable’. Any consistent axiomatic theory in which one can formulate such a statement must be necessarily incomplete: for either this statement is false, in which case it is both false and provable, contradicting the consistency of the axiomatic system, or true, in which case it is both true and unprovable, establishing its incompleteness“.  (4/15/11)