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Review: Manga Guide to Calculus

No Starch Press contacted me and offered me a review copy of the Manga Guide to Calculus. I have a hard time turning down a free Math book so I accepted.

I had never heard of "manga" before so I read up on the subject at Wikipedia.

"Manga consist of comics and print cartoons (sometimes also called komikku コミック), in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 20th century. In their modern form, manga date from shortly after World War II, but they have a long, complex pre-history in earlier Japanese art."

So, manga is a style of comic book. The "Manga Guide to Calculus" aims to teach calculus in a comic book format. I was intrigued. I must be up front and say that I studied calculus in High School close to 30 years ago. I don't know that I'm a good person to judge whether the book effectively teaches calculus to High School or College students. But, I can share my impressions of the book.

My first thought is that I like the idea of having pictures in a Math book. I find that Math can be a very creative endeavor and that illustrations help to reinforce the idea that the creative right brain can be every bit as engaged in solving Math problems as can the logical left brain. When I write business proposals I always think of ways to break up the monotony with graphs or other illustrations. So, the book gets a thumbs up for being heavy on the pictures.

A second element that I really like is that the Manga Guide to Calculus tells a story. I strongly believe in storytelling as a creative way to teach. Telling a story makes the subject more personal and more engaging, in my experience. And, the book tells a fun story:

Noriko is just getting started as a junior reporter for the Asagake Times. She wants to cover the hard-hitting issues, like world affairs and politics. But, does she have the smarts for it? Thankfully, her overbearing and math-minded boss, Mr. Seki, is here to teach her how to analyze her stories with a mathematical eye.

So, the plot is fun. More than that, though, the story gives some very powerful examples of Calculus being used to solve real-world problems. This takes Calculus out of the realm of merely solving abstract problems into solving problems that scientists and engineers really care about. As much as I love abstract Math I also very much appreciate it when the relevance of Math can be demonstrated.

I like this book. A lot. I found that the deeper I went into the chapters, the more I appreciated the teaching approach of using comics and weaving in engaging stories and those real-world examples. As you might expect, the book doesn't go beyond very basic Calculus. But, it does do a very nice job of covering differentiation (including techniques and related theorems), integration, Taylor expansions, and partial differentiation. The Manga Guide to Calculus would make the perfect gift for a high school or college student who is curious about calculus or who, perhaps, is taking Calculus.

Comments (3) Trackbacks (2)
  1. I am a visual learner and a fan of comics so this type of book is right up my ally. I really enjoy the Manga Guide books (they have some other subjects as well such as Electricity). Another great book along these lines is Larry Gonick’s Cartoon Guide to Statistics. While the Cartoon Guide is less story driven, it makes great use of drawing to explain what it going on.

    Another interesting book which I started to read recently is Calculus, The Easy Way. Despite the mundane title, this book teaches calculus in story form (no comics, but some illustrations).

  2. The dangerous thing here is that the students might start ignoring the math but try still to read the story. Playing games is another very nice and creative way of teaching: e.g. in order to be successfull in a game one has to be able to perform some mathematical thinking.

    Why not manga games 🙂

  3. It’s good idea to teach calculus using the manga but I think that this manga doesn’t teach calculus :(.
    I read the functions chapter and it didn’t teach functions in the mathematical way, only told some examples of functions and a metaforical/didactic point of view of a function, but if someone want to learn and understand calculus he should find another book 🙁 (A function f is a relation between two sets A and B, and for every a in A there is a UNIQUE b in B with (a, b) in f).

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