< Back to front page Text size +

Bertrand Russell: superhero

Posted by Christopher Shea  October 22, 2009 09:50 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Does an intellectual biography of Bertrand Russell in the form of a graphic novel sound at all promising, either artistically or commercially? The authors of the extraordinary (if somewhat misleadingly titled) new book "Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth" tackle that question head-on in a prologue to their book.

The prologue, or "Overture," is also retailed in graphic form: "The craziest idea I've ever heard," exclaims Christos H. Papadimitriou, a professor of computer science at Berkeley who has been recruited to help with the project. Nonsense, counters the writer Apostolos Doxiadis, who had hatched the idea, as the pair stroll the hills above Athens: "The form is perfect for stories of heroes in search of great goals."

Naturally, it's all in the execution, but in the hands of Doxiadis and Papadimitriou, not to mention the artists Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna, with whom they collaborated, Bertrand's quest for the foundations of human understanding proves as enthralling as any Spidey-v.-Doc-Oc epic clash. (At least so far: I'm a third of the way through the book.) The key is the the way the Russell character, who serves as a narrator, links his intellectual narrative to his own extraordinary personal tale: as a young boy, he lost his mother, father, and a sister in a matter of weeks. He was then sent to live with his grandfather, a former prime minister, and an imperious grandmother in a grand house filled with secrecy and familial shame. When the young Russell, a prodigy well-served by tutors of Greek, German, and math, reported hearing strange sounds at night, servants and his grandparents alike said he was imagining things. Russell feared he might be going mad. He clinged to logic amid the insanity as to a raft, insanity that proves to be literal as well as figurative.

Papadimitriou is scheduled to speak next Wednesday, at 6 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre, in Cambridge, in an event sponsored by the Harvard Book Store. Tickets are $5.

russellimage-touse.jpg
A crucial moment in Bertrand Russell's early life
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

 
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
contributors
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

archives

Browse this blog

by category