Logic made fun

From Salon:

Book Of the most celebrated graphic novels recently published, R. Crumb's illustrated version of the Book of Genesis is atypically serious and David Mazzucchelli's “Asterios Polyp” is the most artistically sophisticated, but “Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth,” by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou (illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna), is surely the most fun. This comes as a bit of a surprise, since the book's subject — analytical philosophy's search for the foundations of mathematics in the early 20th century — is hardly the stuff that frolics are made of. Still, amusement and cerebration, mixed in exactly the right proportions, can result in a delightful cocktail; Jostein Gaarder's fantasy novel cum philosophy primer, “Sophie's World,” proved how popular the blend can be, and “Logicomix” has followed its example onto the bestseller lists.

What “Logicomix” niftily demonstrates is how well the graphic novel form is suited to mounting sprightly explanations of abstract concepts. Thinkers often employ concrete metaphors as tools to convey difficult ideas — the “infinite hotel” of mathematician David Hilbert, for example, an establishment that, although full, always has room for another guest. In “Logicomix,” Hilbert's paradox is further visualized by a character checking into an actual hotel and drawing arrows on the posted floor plan. That character is the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, and the scene is played for laughs with Russell's bemused new bride shaking her head and a German porter exclaiming “They are crazy, these Britons!”

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