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Keywords: Manga, maths, linear algebra
Title: The Manga Guide To Linear Algebra
Author: Shin Takahashi, Iroha Inoue and Trend-Pro Co. Ltd.
Publisher: No Starch Press
Verdict: Doesn't quite take off.
Graphical guides to different subjects - from Anarchism to Astrophysics - are an old story in publishing. There seems to be no topic too obscure or too technical for graphical treatment, but the question that has to be asked is whether these more technically demanding topics really benefit by being wrapped up in a comic... One such graphical series is the 'Manga Guides…' published by No Starch Press, tackling complex topics like regression analysis, calculus and linear algebra (reviewed here). Does the Manga format help or hinder understanding?
Linear algebra is concerned with matrix and vector algebra and has a wide range of applications across different fields - from computer graphics to linear programming and regression analysis. By definition it's heavily mathematical and abstract and is most likely to be taught in an university course rather than at school or college. As such it's an unlikely candidate for a Manga comic, but there's surely no doubting that there are going to be legions of students looking for an easy way into the subject.
The format of the book is to wrap learning of linear algebra into a Manga story, interspersed with blocks of straight exposition like a standard text book. The ratio of content is heavily weighted to the Manga side of things, but it's also clear that readers are expected to tackle the non-graphical sections of the book. Those hoping to avoid the hard stuff completely are likely to be disappointed.
But to return to our opening point, does the comic format help get across the dry and abstract concepts at the heart of linear algebra? The key to doing these kinds of things successfully lies in the imaginative mix of story, interesting imagery and the clever use of metaphor and thought experiments. And, unfortunately, it just doesn't quite come together in this book. The story is just that little bit too liner (maths geek gets to teach linear algebra to the little sister of his karate teacher), the subject matter doesn't really lend itself to interesting images or metaphors. What you get pretty much is to look over the shoulder of the leading protagonist as he gives maths lessons to someone else. In this case it really does seem that the topic just isn't amenable to graphic treatment (which is odd given how much linera algerba is used in computer graphics…).
The formula of Manga and science works much better in a subject like relativity where there are though experiments and crazy ideas to work with. The Manga Guide To Relativity shows that there's not a problem with the idea of mixing Manga and science, it's just that in this instance the topic itself works better in a traditional formula than it does in comic form.