Marshmallow recently got her paws on Logicomix, a graphic novel telling of the first two-thirds of philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell‘s life, as it is intertwined with the story of the stormy events related to the philosophical foundations of mathematics that occurred in the early twentieth century. The book is most likely not intended for young readers, but Marshmallow found it interesting and wanted to review it for the book bunnies blog. Below is her conversation with Sprinkles about this book, written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, and illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie di Donna.
Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, tell us a little about this book.
Marshmallow: The first thing I want to say is that this is not a children’s book. It’s not necessarily inappropriate for children, but some concepts might be confusing for young bunnies.
S: Why did you read it?
M: It looked interesting. It is a graphic novel and I like those.
S: I see. So tell us what it is about.
M: It’s about Bertrand Russell. He is a philosopher. Basically it is about his life.
S: And the book has a really intriguing subtitle: “An Epic Search for Truth”. How is that related to Russell?
M: I think it’s because he spent a lot of time thinking about what truth means, the true meaning of “true”.
S: Yes, Russell is a foundational figure for modern mathematical logic today. I find his story fascinating and I really liked this book myself when I read it. So what else do you want to tell us?
M: There are parts of the book where the two authors, the illustrators, and a researcher who is helping them with the project are talking among themselves. And there are the other parts where we basically follow Bertrand Russell give a speech about his life and his work in logic. The speech is supposed to be about “the role of logic in human affairs” and apparently Russell did not give any such speech.
S: But it probably makes a good plot device to tell us about his life, I guess.
M: Yes, I think it works.
S: So did you know about Bertrand Russell before reading this book?
S: What do you think about him now, after having read it?
M: I think he is an interesting person. But according to this book review you showed me, not everything in the book is accurate.
S: Yes, I think the authors themselves say they took some artistic license with some of the facts. And that book review is a careful scholarly overview of the book that readers who might be curious about the accuracy of the text might check out. But let us get back to your reading of the book. What appealed to you most about this book?
M: Well, I liked the switch between the creators of the book and the subject of the book. It made things interesting. I also did not know about Russell and Wittgenstein and Gödel, and any of those philosophers, so I learned a lot.
S: And the book does cover a lot of ground in terms of the foundational debates of the early twentieth century. How did all that work out for you?
M: What do you mean by foundational debates?
S: I mean, the questions about the foundations of mathematics, of logic, of truth. How these folks were trying to understand why mathematics was true, how it worked, and so on.
M: I think some of that went over my head. But I did find it cool that people were thinking so hard about why math is true.
S: I know you find philosophical questions intriguing. The ones in this book are quite specific to math, it seems at first, but then if you think about it, we all want to know what is true, what makes something true, as opposed to false, fake news, or disinformation, or misinformation.
M: Yes. I did a project on all those this year. I used this website which talks about all the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide, and how it is everywhere, and how you should be very very afraid. But of course dihydrogen monoxide is just H2O, which is water!
S: Yes, I really liked your project! So we know it is sometimes hard to know what is true and what is not. And this book is about some philosophers who are trying to think about these questions very carefully and trying to see how to connect them to math.
M: Yes, I think that makes sense.
S: So I know you were not looking for philosophy or math when you started. Did all that overwhelm you when you were reading it?
M: No. I think they explained things in ways people could understand. I guess some things are a bit confusing, and I probably did miss some things, and maybe younger bunnies might not get any of the philosophical stuff, but it was interesting for me.
S: That’s great Marshmallow! And maybe you will come back to this book in a few years’ time if you are curious to dig deeper into the philosophical questions in it. I’m glad you read it!
M: Me too.
S: So as we wrap up this review, I’ll ask how you rate the book…
M: I rate this book 95%.
S: Sounds good! I know you always like to end our chats the way Caramel ends his reviews. So go ahead!
M: Stay tuned for more book bunny reviews!