The Cartoon Introduction to Calculus

How did calculus come to be? Why? Who was involved? What does this have to do with pineapples (page 84)? These and other questions are integral to this book, which is not derivative of any other I have read. Okay, enough puns. Let’s get to the facts.

The Cartoon Introduction to Calculus is my favorite calculus book ever. Written by Grady Klein and Yoran Bauman, Ph.D., the book is informative, interesting, and insanely funny. That is not an easy task considering the subject matter. I got a C in calculus as a university freshman, and although I understand the topic better today, I really wish this book had existed at the time.

All the important topics are covered. The reader begins by being introduced to the history of calculus with both Leibniz and Newton and the questions they were exploring that lead each to “invent” or “discover” (pick your own side, I’m not taking one) the mathematics involved. We learn about The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, limits, derivatives, how this is useful in applications like economics, all the way to integrals and how they are used in physics. I sincerely wish the practical applications had been made this clear to me when I first encountered the subject!

There are other books out there that do a pretty good job of presenting this material clearly and well, such as one I reviewed ten years ago. What makes this book stand out is the writing and illustration. It is funny, and that is disarming. Bauman, who is billed as “The World’s First and Only Stand-Up Economist” and Klein, a previous work of whose I reviewed six years ago, pair up to write an easy-to-read, interesting, laughter-producing, intelligent guide to a tough topic for many. I’m impressed.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated Guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals

How do you make decisions? Do you know? Some of us use market norms while some use social norms. These and other topics are covered in today’s review.

Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals by Dan Ariely and illustrated by Matt R. Trower aims to help readers learn to consider the reasons why some decisions are better than others.

To achieve the book’s goals of explaining how social sciences and behavioral economics overlap and differ we are presented with a narrative. The narrator, Adam, faces a continuous and confusing set of choices he must make. How will he decide which option to choose in each of these moments? Assisting the narrative are colorful and well-done illustrations.

The author submits that decision making is often a subconscious balancing act between competing norms. We have economics to consider. We also have what is acceptable or appropriate in society. It is not always obvious how to balance these two.

To help explain how we deal with them in Western society, Ariely gives Adam two fairies, the market fairy and the social fairy. Good decision making often requires us to identify and evaluate the forces at work around us, and these characters help Adam do just that. In the process, we as readers are given some thoughts and skills to consider and adapt.

Anyone with a weakness in either of these two departments, economics or social sciences, will benefit from this book, along with anyone with strengths but who aren’t sure how to balance the two perspectives. I am especially looking forward to seeing the reaction of my Autistic son and how the book may influence him when he reads it.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight

On July 20, 1969, humans first walked on the moon. It was an amazing achievement, even by today’s standards 50 years later.

Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight is not the first book by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm that I have reviewed. In fact I have reviewed two others previously. As with each of those, this book is well-researched, historically valuable, and filled with illustrations that enhance the text.

In this book, we learn the history of the moon landing, starting years back with the beginnings of astronomy and studies and beliefs about the moon, through early rocket science and the war years, all the way to the successful Apollo 11 landing and safe return home.

The story is told using multiple voices, which I especially appreciate. While the Apollo project history is frequently shown and told through the voice of participants, such as famous astronauts, there is also a narrator for historic contextual moments and scenes. Moving the story along through a series of vignettes and flashbacks is both interesting and also allows important background knowledge to be brought in at just the right moment for it to have its greatest impact.

As with all of his work that I have reviewed, Fetter-Vorm’s artwork is splendid, appropriate to the moment, and beneficial. I especially liked the way he moves between color and grey scale images for impact when showing scenes of “present moments” passing through the Apollo 11 developments and contextual history.

This is one worth picking up for anyone even slightly interested in space.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

The Manga Guide to Cryptography

This “Manga Guide to…” series is fantastic. This is another solid entry worthy of your time and attention, provided the subject matter is of interest for any reason. While none of the entries in the series could or is intended to replace a textbook, they are all fantastic supplementary materials to any study of the academic topics covered.

The Manga Guide to Cryptography tackles all of the main points you would expect of an academic introduction to the topic. It does so with clarity, with precision, and surrounds the academic details with an enjoyable narrative that makes the information much easier to absorb. In fact, I would go so far as to say the story makes the subject matter move from difficult, but interesting, to enjoyable. This is done by giving a context to the subject matter that the reader can relate to.

Ruka Maguro is the younger sister of Jun Meguro, who is a police inspector. She tags along with him as he investigates a case of art theft from a supposedly secure museum. As information security is discussed during the investigation they are joined by Rio Yoneda, a news reporter, who points out the flaws in the first cryptographic cipher being used to protect the location of the now-stolen masterpiece. This is all in the first five pages.

From here, the story develops (I won’t spoil the plot any further). Along the way, the book covers the foundations of encryption and classic ciphers, various algorithms such as symmetric-key and public-key and multiple implementations and details for each, and finally a number of practical applications of encryption. The book will not teach you how to become an elite hacker (1337 hax0r, either), but will give you a solid introduction to a wide breadth of foundation information in the topic. It does so with enough clarity and precision to help you understand what the various ciphers, algorithms, and implementations are and how they are currently or previously used along with enough understanding to help you do further research on any that interest you deeply.

This book won’t replace a textbook and doing your homework, but it has a very strong chance of helping you overcome the fear and intimidation that are often associated with these complex topics. Like the other titles in this series, I recommend this book highly.

It seems that the publisher now prevents hotlinking of images. I don’t blame them, but that is why there is only one link to the book (in my first reference to the title) and not two (one from an image of the cover).
Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Manga Art

Illustrators generally get paid to work on projects. This means taking someone else’s vision, story, or text and bringing it to life in pictures. Doing so requires special talent as the illustrator must listen to and absorb someone else’s ideas before creating their accompanying artwork. Mark Crilley is a talented and experienced illustrator who got the chance to find out what would happen if he pitched a book that contained illustrations that didn’t follow a specific theme, a book about illustrations without being a how-to book, a book about the art. We all benefit because Watson-Guptill Publications accepted that proposal.

Mark Crilley’s Manga Art: Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator is a beautiful and fun jaunt through Crilley’s imagination. The art contained in the book is diverse and masterfully created. There is no storyline. There is no plot. There are no editors or committees. This is a book created “in an atmosphere of complete artistic freedom.” It works.

The book is arranged in five sections, an organizational scheme that seems likely to have been imposed after most of the illustrations were created. The sections each contain a set of illustrations that fit a general theme, grouping together sketches and full-color illustrations of characters, Japan, science fiction, conceptual art, and styleplay. Each illustration includes interesting comments from Crilley describing the art. These sometimes focus on the craft of creating the piece, sometimes on a thought or experience that influenced the image or sparked its creation. Occasionally there is a cool “Your Turn” tip connected to an illustration to help the reader think about ways to enhance their own creations.

This is a fun, interesting, enjoyable, and inspiring book that makes me want to walk away from my computer and pick up some art supplies.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery

I enjoy graphic adaptations of classic novels and short stories. Admittedly, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. This is an instance of the adaptation working, very well.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: The authorized Graphic Adaptation is a lovely and perfectly horrifying adaptation of the 1948 short story. The book was scripted and illustrated by Jackson’s grandson, Miles Hyman. Hyman does an excellent job of staying true to the original feel of the story with haunting, deep images that evoke genuine emotion. The words on each page are sparse, letting the artwork communicate much of the story. This is a wonderful use of a different medium to project the same message and creepiness of the original and required true translation skills. Hyman succeeds. There is a rhythm here that is controlled and which builds from mysterious to worrisome to absolutely horrifying. Fantastically done! If you enjoy the genre, this is worth your time.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

The Manga Guide to Physiology

I’m re-using this first paragraph introduction from the last review I wrote for a book in this series:

This is one of several atypical educational books that use graphic art to help teach difficult concepts or illustrate the action and another wonderful entry in the “Manga Guide to…” series that I have been reviewing.  I keep requesting review copies of each title in the series as they come out, and I have yet to be disappointed. This is an impressive series that consistently makes very difficult academic topics more interesting and a little easier for students. I would not consider these a replacement for a textbook, and neither would the publishers of the series, but every book that I have reviewed from the series would make an excellent supplement, especially for the struggling student.


The Manga Guide to Physiology tackles all of the main points of a typical Physiology 101 course that might be taken by a college freshman. It does so with clarity, with precision, and surrounds the academic details with an enjoyable narrative that makes the information much easier to absorb. In fact, I would go so far as to say the story makes the subject matter move from difficult, but interesting, to enjoyable. This is done by giving a context to the subject matter that the reader can relate to.

Kumiko Karada is a freshman nursing student who is struggling. She is failing her physiology class and has one chance to pass. She must do exceptionally well on a makeup exam. This is a daunting task, made easier with the help of Osamu Kaisei, an assistant professor in the Department of Sports and Health Medicine. It turns out that Osamu is also a gifted teacher who is preparing his course syllabus and materials for the same class that Kumiko is failing. The two work together to help Kumiko learn what she needs to know.

Topics covered in the book include all the main systems: circulatory, respiratory, digestive, kidneys and renal, the brain and nervous, musculoskeletal, endocrine, and also details like body fluids, cells, genes, and reproduction. The information is accurate, up-to-date, and clearly presented. The topics are first introduced within the narrative, but gaps and additional details are added at the end of each chapter. The chapters are each based on a specific system.

Studying physiology? This book won’t replace your textbook and doing your homework, but it has a very strong chance of helping you overcome the fear and intimidation that are often associated with these complex topics. Like the other titles in this series, I recommend this book highly.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War

I confess that I have never been deeply interested in The American Civil War. After reading this book, I’m convinced that the only reason I wasn’t interested is because of how the topic was presented to me. I am now very interested.

Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War takes the history and scholarship surrounding the conflict which shaped the United States and which still has an impact on its internal politics and struggles and adds what was always missing for me: the human element. Each chapter takes an ordinary, everyday object from the era and uses that object to begin a vignette that demonstrates how the war affected real people. We are given solid history, but within a context that gives the facts meaning. As Jonathan Fetter-Vorm did with Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb, a difficult and complex topic is deftly broken down into easily digestible portions along with a moving and real sense of why I as a reader should care.

The artwork in the book is powerful and evocative. The narrative is cinematic. It is not hyperbole to say that I was transported into the story while reading, to the extent that I often forgot I was reading; I was so moved with emotion that more than once I found myself in tears. Combine this with the solid presentation of historical facts and I am left with a hunger to know more. For this, I say this book belongs in every school library in the country and on the shelf of anyone interested in good art, excellent storytelling, and careful scholarship.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy

I like this sort of book, the type that combines complex ideas with approachable expression and style. It is even more enjoyable when I’m already interested in the topic.

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy provides a solid, basic foundation to the thoughtful contemplation and interesting ideas in philosophy. It is scheduled to be published in April 2015.

The book presents its information using an enjoyable graphic style that is well done and pleasant to the eyes. The topics are broken into six chapters, each of which builds on the previous. The order is logical, which is good for a book on philosophy, and is actually where we start after a short introduction. Logic is followed by a discussion of perception. This leads to a discussion of the mind, free will, God, and ethics.

The cartoon narrative that is the vehicle for these discussions uses a guide, Heraclitus, one of the early philosophers who predated Socrates. He takes the reader on a journey from the beginning to learn about philosophical thought from the earliest stage to later ideas that built upon, and often contradicted, them.

Most of the big names are mentioned along with a brief description of their main themes. This includes all your favorites across time, such as Plato, Descartes, and Mill. In total, I counted more than 20 different philosophers introduced. That is great in a comic-style book of 168 pages. The introductions are short and necessarily simplified, but this provides an excellent beginning to help the reader get the big picture.

I recommend the book for anyone from later elementary school through college who does not already have a basic understanding of philosophy and the main schools of thought.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb

This is one of those books that is hard to categorize. It is alternately fascinating and disturbing, historically important and tragic, accessible and thought-provoking. This is a perfect mix of what I think we should feel when confronted with the history of The Manhattan Project and the world’s entry into the Atomic Age.

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb strives and succeeds at two tasks. It tells an accurate history of the facts and events leading up to the creation of the first atomic bomb through its use by the United States in the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasake. It also successfully prompts the asking of philosophical questions that humanity must wrestle with when faced with such destructive power.

Throughout the black and white illustrated book, the graphics are clear and compelling. You feel the emotions of each moment, the fears and the excitement, the hope and the despair. You look into the eyes of the participants and feel their complexity and depth. This set of people were not monochrome in their beliefs, but complex and this comes through.

The events are told clearly, using a linear style that also incorporates both flashbacks and foretelling. It does so to great effect. Throughout, we get just enough scientific explanation to make the complexity of the topic clearer, using descriptions that are easy to understand while also technically accurate and complete enough to be meaningful.

All this is good. But there is one thing that this book accomplishes that is even better. It makes you think. This is no mere scientific or historic text, although it is both of these. It is also a philosophical springboard to deep meditation. This is a very good thing. You start by feeling alongside the participants the excitement of a scientific quest as they ask, “Can it be done?” You end with the same question most of them ended with, “Should it be done?”

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?