The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra – Love, karate & mind-bending math in a helpful comic book – #bookreview #in

The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra
Shin Takahashi, Iroha Inoue, and Trend-Pro Co., Ltd.
(No Starch Press,
paperback, list price $24.95)

Linear algebra is one of the reasons I fled engineering school and became a writer many years ago. Mathematical abstractions and my mind just do not seem to know how to mix.

I would like to say that reading The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra has caused a complete breakthrough in my stubborn resistance to any math beyond simple equations. But that would be a complete lie. Linear transformations, inverse matrices, and eigenvectors still do not compute well inside my head. Of course, the good news – for me – is that they really don’t have to. I’m an old guy now and not worried about becoming a scientist or mathematician. I’ll never have to know a diagonalizable matrix from a determinant to cash a Social Security check.

But many young people do need to know linear algebra. And The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra can be helpful for any serious student, from middle-school age through college, who is wrestling with linear algebra concepts. It’s a fun book that mixes karate and romance with real math in a now well-proven comic book style that facilitates learning.

You do have to get past the fact that even this book has trouble presenting an easily grasped definition of linear algebra. “That’s a tough question to answer properly,” young math whiz Reiji Yurino confesses to his new love interest, Misa Ichinose. But once you do slide past his mind-numbing response (“Broadly speaking, linear algebra is about translating something residing in an m-dimensional space into a corresponding shape in an n-dimensional space”), each key concept is presented and illustrated in clever and helpful ways amid an unfolding story of young love and having to learn self-defense.

Thanks to this book, I now know more about linear algebra than I learned in my doomed attempt to become an electrical engineer. And who knows? If I had had the book many decades ago, I might now be lecturing in a university classroom, stealing quotes from Reiji Yurino, and telling you with a chuckle: “You can generally never find more than n different eigenvalues and eigenvectors for any nxn matrix.”

Seriously, if you know someone who is facing linear algebra with dread (maybe it’s you) or struggling with it and now expressing frustration and resistance, this book likely can help.

Si Dunn

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.

Can ‘edumanga’ save us from our educational malaise? The Manga Guide to Biochemistry – #bookreview

The Manga Guide to Biochemistry
By Masaharu Takemura and Office Sawa, with illustrations by Kikuyaro
(No Starch Press, paperback, list price $24.95)

Biology and chemistry were never my top subjects, and my chances of becoming a biochemist are less than zero now, in this universe.

But even an old dog like me can learn a few biochemistry tricks with the help of manga, the smart, refreshing Japanese comic book alternative to turgid textbooks.

Indeed, many American high school and college students may now need all the manga they can get to help stem our worrisome national decline in science and mathematics scores. 

Since 2008, No Starch Press has been translating into English and publishing a series of Manga Guides originally from Japan. These offer entertaining comic introductions to tough subjects such as calculus, physics, molecular biology, and relativity.

The approach is known as “educational manga” or “edumanga,” and many U.S. educators, reviewers and media outlets are praising it as a fresh hope for getting young students interested in tough subjects critical to America’s future.

This new volume from No Starch Press, The Manga Guide to Biochemistry,  dives into its tricky topics in a very engaging way. The comic’s young protagonist, a girl named Kumi, unlocks many of the secrets of healthy eating and, along the way, learns some of the key science of biochemistry. By going on and off fad diets, she begins to understand how the body metabolizes carbohydrates, lipids, and alcohol, and how mitochondria produce ATP, and how DNA is transcribed into RNA.

Kumi is helped in her quest by her brainy friend Nemoto, by Nemoto’s biochemistry professor, Dr. Kurosaka, and by Robocat, a friendly endoscopic robot.

(Trust me, when you are being endoscoped, you want everyone and everything to be friendly.)

No Starch Press publisher William Pollock has reported that the “easily digestible” manga comic format is proving popular not only with “college and high school students tired of dry textbooks” but also grabbing the attention of “younger readers interested in learning real math and science.”

Says Pollock:  “The Manga Guides are great supplements to college-level courses, but we’ve also heard from parents whose nine- and ten-year-olds learned statistics and physics from these books. The story and comics almost hide the fact that readers are actually gaining solid technical knowledge.”

Not many comic books have kid characters dealing with topics such as the hyperbola of the Michaelis-Menten equation or the sigmoid curve of an allosteric enzyme. And not many comic books can help you  understand (if you don’t already know) the metabolism of substances such as carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and alcohol.

Actually, it’s very hard to hide the biochemistry when brainy Nemoto is intoning: “And if just a base and a pentose bond (without a phosphate), the result is called a nucleoside.”

But that’s okay. As the book says: “Whether you’re an amateur scientist, a medical student, or just curious about how your body turns cupcakes into energy, The Manga Guide to Biochemistry is your guide to understanding the science of life.”

Or, at least, it’s your guide to appreciating a valiant effort to make biochemistry more exciting, challenging and  understandable to kids, young  adults — and even aging grownups who often avoided tough subjects in school and now want and need some understanding of what was missed.

Si Dunn