Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra

The Mange Guide to Linear Algebra

     “If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough.” 
–Albert Einstein


Hi, I’m Bil.  I like math… a lot.  My degree is in Electronics Engineering and Technology, and I worked as a math tutor in college.  I often enjoy sitting down with a tough everyday problem that can be solved with intuition and/or mathematical optimization (Pinewood Derby, anyone?) …anything that gives me a chance to sharpen the old math tooth again.

Now that I’m a parent of three, I often think about what it’s going to take to create learning opportunities that could inspire a love (or even medium curiosity) for math and science in my children.  After all, if we are to overcome the downward drag of cultural apathy for math, we should give some serious thought to how we approach these subjects at home.

When I came across the “Manga Guide to Linear Algebra"   I just had to see what the “Manga Guide”  series was all about.  Comic book/Text book mashups?  Yes, and on a wide variety of meaty subjects—Biochemistry, Calculus, Databases, Electricity, Molecular Biology, Physics, Regression Analysis, Special Relativity, Statistics, oh, and *the Universe*.  (Bonus-- not only do the books have a linear plot [hint: that was a math joke] complete with tension, drama and romance, but math and science-wise they totally deliver the goods.)

I can’t remember if Professor P. Papadopoulos *ever* explained to me or the rest of the class how to actually use calculus to solve a problem we might encounter.  Day one, we dived right into delta process of derivatives, and it was a white knuckle race against time to finally conquer integration by parts in the second class.   The “Manga Guide” didn’t do that—I wasn’t suddenly bombarded by strange symbols and expected to sink or swim while the author moved along to the next logical tier.  Rather, I was treated to  brief, illustrated and meaningful exchanges between the two main characters, Reiji and Misa, as Reiji thoughtfully marches out the curriculum and Misa asks the questions we should all ask at some point--"What is Linear Algebra, Exactly?”  As I read Reiji’s thoughtful explanation, I knew I’d found something unique and wonderful—a clearer picture of how these processes are used, and why this subject matters.  It’s the little things that give us a surer footing in our learning.

For a free downloadable chapter, click on the image:


I have to give the writers an A+ for doing their homework with this series.  You can tell they have a deep understanding of their chosen subjects because the characters are able to explain the concepts very simply to one another.  By expounding the subject in the form of a student-to-teacher dialogue, the book avoids becoming an illustrated lecture—rather, it takes on a new form that gives the reader necessary mental white space.  Every time Misa raises a question, you get a second pass through the lesson material as Reiji’s answer either reveals an important detail, or a glimpse at the bigger picture.  It’s a very merciful, gentle style that way; you certainly won’t find yourself reading the same sentence 20 times, failing to decode it— but it isn’t a quick read, either.  I found myself reading sections a second and third time, so I could give the “Manga Guide” every chance to sink in all the more.  Whenever a standard textbook fails to create a clear picture of the concepts or methods, this series could be very useful in setting up a meaningful reintroduction, or a helpful first impression.

Who would be the ideal recipient/reader of this book series?  I'd recommend it for a pre-teen or teenager who is curious about our current body of knowledge, a school teacher (of any subject), an engineer with an action figure collection, a freshman college student that had a hard time with pre-calculus, someone who uses math and science as part of the intellectual rigor of their career, but may not necessarily be a mathematician or scientist.  

1 comment:

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