The Manga Guide to Calculus
Author: Hiroyuki Kojima, Shin Togami et al
Publisher: No Starch Press, 2009
Pages: 256
ISBN: 978-1593271947
Aimed at: Anyone wanting to master calculus
Rating: 3
Pros: Friendly, easy-to-read, approach
Cons: Conversational comic-strip format seems contrived
Reviewed by: Mike James

Part of  the series "The Manga Guide to" this book follows the set format of lots of comic strip pictures with the hero and heroine going through adventures and encounters, explaining ideas along the way.

The format worked well in the first of the series I reviewed because the subject matter, databases offered an easy and natural topic to weave into a bigger, albeit unlikely, story. The trouble with calculus, or indeed any math-based topic, is that sooner or later the characters have to start to talk about equations and use symbols and so on – and let's face it nobody talks maths. You might well write it down but you simply don't have a chat about quadratic equations.

Even so there are plenty of ideas leading up to the maths that can be discussed. Here the approach fails for a different reason – there is a better way. If you are going to introduce the idea of a function, say, then what better than to make use of a programming approach. "A function is a mechanism that accepts and input value, processes it and then gives you and output value". The programming approach means you can not only use analogies but you can even provide practical examples by way of small programs.

In this case the story line is about two journalists and they use the calculus and functions and graphs to try to elucidate possible news stories. I found the over-eager, pushy and often angry girl reporter character and the lazy male assistant to be fairly irritating – but you might find them attractive.

The subject matter explained starts from the basics of functions and differentiation, moves through integration and on to include multivariate calculus (partial differentiation) and Taylor expansions. The approach taken is the fairly modern that regards the derivative as the best local linear approximation to a function. This has the advantage that it generalises to more sophisticated interpretations in higher maths – but if you are reading the Manga Guide it's unlikely that higher maths is in your future.

You need to be happy about algebra before starting on this book because it really does take your ability to read equations and perform manipulations for granted – so if you are frightened by equations you need to start somewhere else.

I'd like to think that this book could persuade a beginner that calculus and math in general was fun – it is – but I'm not convinced. It's worth a try if you have exhausted other approaches.

Last Updated ( Monday, 08 February 2010 )