The cover of this guide to linear algebra promises “Comics Inside!” Is there a chance that this math lesson could be fun? Shin Takahashi hopes so, at least. The author’s preface acts as an extended disclaimer, making the goals of the book clear to the reader. This isn’t a magical guide to understanding algebra in a single afternoon; it’s a supplement for math students, particularly those entering college (though, I experienced multiple flashbacks to high school math class as I read). Nor is this a book about “solving for x,” so much as it is about understanding how variable equations and matrices express lines, shapes, and numerical relationships. Though this title is teen-oriented, it could work well for just about anyone from late teens to adulthood.
Each chapter contains three sections: a brief manga story; a lecture that features faces, expressions, and dialog between two of the story’s characters; and a review section that recaps the lesson and provides a few practice problems. The manga story follows wimpy math whiz Reiji Yurino, who is allowed into his school’s karate club by its captain, Tetsuo Ichinose, on the condition that Reiji tutor Tetsuo’s little sister Misa. Tetsuo orders Reiji to not date Misa, though she is a kind soul who offers to prepare lunches to fuel Reiji’s karate lessons.
During the lecture portion of each chapter, several methods are used to impart information, all of which are useful and necessary in a book that takes a visual approach to mathematics. Reiji often provides academic definitions of terms, followed by an interpretation: “but you can think of it like this…” or “you could write it this way too.” A working knowledge of math terminology may be necessary to absorb everything Reiji says on the first pass, but his visual aids help a lot. For example, functions are explained as ordering from a menu and vectors are visualized as putt-putt games, illustrating the patterns behind math problems. These examples help readers understand the larger concepts at work before they navigate large charts of variables and coordinates.
The review portion of each chapter generally relies on text and basic charts, but the author still shines through as a voice not simply reciting rules to remember. Takahashi has an intrinsic understanding of how to explain and support a concept, and likewise recognizes where students will go cross-eyed in the application or expansion of that concept. Highlights and lines are often used to indicate a concept in action during an equation or matrix, which gives readers all the tools they need to make sense of the math. The book remains current as of this writing, but it directs readers to the No Starch Press website to download future appendices for each chapter.
Inoue’s artwork aptly portrays Reiji the encouraging tutor, Tetsuo the stout powerhouse, and Misa the adorable student. During lessons, their talking heads made me feel like part of a study group, especially when Reiji takes a lesson to its extreme and Misa signals him to scale it back to practical examples. In particular, I would like to praise the depiction of Reiji and Misa as well-developed characters who could have been cast as infallible or helpless. Reiji’s intellectual finesse is balanced by his struggle to learn self-defense and gain strength, and his action scenes do not go well for him. Though Misa is in need of tutoring, she is no pushover, and she shows an affinity for math and willingness to concentrate that I appreciated. Misa provides feedback, makes educated guesses, and contributes her own examples, like three-dimensional geometry illustrated as operating a crane game. They are two students working together, just as this book works with readers of different learning styles to impart algebraic knowledge.
The Manga Guide To Linear Algebra
by Shin Takahashi
Art by Iroha Inoue
No Starch Press, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: N/A