Bertrand Russell’s The Good Citizen’s Alphabet, with illustrations by Franciszka Themerson, was published in 1953. Bertrand Russell, the English logician and philosopher, celebrated for his work in mathematical logic and known to a wider public for his social and political campaigns, was also a man with a great sense of humour. This socio-political alphabet, written by Russell “for the guidance of the first steps of the infant mind”, started life as a private joke in correspondence between Russell and the Themersons, who decided to publish it.
Russell’s alphabet teaches far more than just the letters of the alphabet, as ‘A’ stands not for ‘apple’ but for ‘asinine: what you think’, followed by other ‘satirical letters’ such as ‘O’ for ‘objective: a delusion which other lunatics share’ and ‘L’ for ‘liberty: the right to obey the police’. Russell was delighted with the publication and said that Franciszka Themerson's drawings "heightened all the points I most wanted to make”. A satire by both the philosopher and the illustrator, the book is compelling for the simplicity of its design, and for the mix of whimsical humour in the drawings with the satirical bite of the words. As Nick Wadley has observed of another Gaberbocchus book, The Way it Walks (1954), a book of cartoons illustrated by Franciszka Themerson, “for all their appearance of naiveté, the book’s drawings are subtle, wise and funny – affectionate, ridiculous, merciless and moral all at once”. These contrasting qualities are also evident in Franciszka Themerson’s painting, her stage design, as well as her book illustration, in which whimsical playfulness often sits closely beside the savage and the grotesque.
A reviewer in the Dublin Magazine, wrote about the book: “Bertrand Russell’s alphabet book is designed to improve the minds of the young in our acrimonious and utilitarian world. It will encourage them remorselessly to deflate the loftiest sentiments and neatly to undermine the blandest attitudes of relatives, theorists and reformers”. In The News Chronicle, Fredrick Laws said: "...wickedly and prettily illustrated... and designed to appeal to infant minds." The book was also published in a limited and a trade edition in 1953, and in 1954 The Good Citizen’s Alphabet was chosen by the National Book League for their Exhibition of Book Design held in London in that year.
In 1962, as part of the celebrations of Russell’s 90th birthday, Gaberbocchus published Russell’s History of the World in epitome, a small booklet, offered “for use in Martian infant schools”. It consists of one sentence of nineteen words, ‘Since Adam and Eve ate the apple, man has never refrained from any folly of which he was capable”, accompanied by a drawing of Adam and Eve, a drawing of a battle scene and finally, a photograph of the mushroom cloud of Hiroshima. As with The Good Citizen’s Alphabet, simplicity of form is combined with depth of meaning, this time to an even greater degree. As Christopher Macy noted in The Humanist, “No one could say more in one sentence than Russell”. In 1970, Gaberbocchus published The Good Citizen's Alphabet and History of the World in epitome in one small volume.