To the edge of the cosmos & beyond: The Manga Guide to the Universe – #bookreview

The Manga Guide to the Universe
By Kenji Ishikawa, Kiyoshi Kawabata, and Verte Corp.
(No Starch Press, paperback, list price $19.95)

There was a time long ago, in a decade far, far away, when I really wanted to be an astronomer.

It was a time, pre-Sputnik, when some astronomers still thought there might be beings building great canals on Mars and living in great cities beneath the clouds of Venus.

My observatory consisted of a clear, back yard view of the Milky Way, a small handheld telescope and an occasional outdated astronomy book borrowed from the local library.

It wasn’t that long ago. I’m still alive and still fascinated by the universe and its myriad mysteries and surprises.

The Manga Guide to the Universe, recently released by No Starch Press, is exactly the book I wish I had owned when I was much younger. This “cartoon guide to the cosmos” is packed with clearly explained, easily absorbed details about a wide array of astronomical and cosmological concepts.

The topics range from the early geocentric  (Earth-centered) and heliocentric (sun-centered) theories of the universe, to surface conditions on the solar system’s planets, the “blue shift” and “red shift” in the light from an object as it approaches or moves away, and “Occam’s razor” –“If two or more theories can explain the same phenomenon, then the simplest one is more likely to be correct.”

You may not be familiar with manga or “educational manga,” but many U.S. educators, reviewers and media outlets have been praising manga comic books as a fresh hope for getting today’s media-distracted, reading-resistant young people interested in science, mathematics and other tough subjects critical to America’s future.

Over the past four years, No Starch Press has been translating into English and publishing a series of Manga Guides originally from Japan. These books offer entertaining comic introductions to tough subjects such as calculus, physics, molecular biology, and relativity.

The comic books’ characters are Japanese youngsters, teens, and adults. And some of the illustrations have a few residual bits of Japanese language embedded (sometimes with translation added). But the English texts are well-translated, well-edited and reviewed for accuracy by experts.

In The Manga Guide to the Universe, the characters encounter a wide range of concepts that include how a star’s size, magnitude and temperature are related and how cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) is just one part of the evidence for the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin and expansion.

And no comic book exploring the universe is, of course, complete without a clarifying discussion of the Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker (FLRW) model of the cosmos. It holds that “the fate of the universe depends on the curvature of space, and that curvature has a one-to-one correspondence with the average density…of matter that currently exists in the universe….”

You don’t have to be a media-distracted, reading-resistant kid to enjoy, be challenged by, and learn from The Manga Guide to the Universe. Books like this can reach, teach and entertain students and casual readers of almost all ages. They might even help launch new careers and new discoveries as today’s readers grow into tomorrow’s scientists, researchers and leaders.

It’s a bit late for me to become an astronomer, of course. Yet it is not too late to study this book and look up at the heavens with a greater understanding and deeper appreciation. We now know much more than ever.

Still, the mysteries that remain to be discovered and deciphered extend from here to infinity…and, as that intrepid space adventurer Buzz Lightyear would tell us, beyond.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.