Book Review: The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra

(Occasionally I post reviews of book that I think may interest programmers, in this case admittedly only those with a mathematical inclination.)

[Linear Algebra]

The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra  
$24.95, 264 pages, 2012
By Shin Takahashi
No Starch Press
ISBN 13: 978-1593274139

I’ve always avoided the Manga series (The Manga Guide to Neurosurgery, The Manga Guide to Xenolinguistics, and so forth), but I use a lot of math in my programming, including linear algebra, so when I saw The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra, I thought I’d give it a try.

The book teaches the basics of linear algebra from the ground up. It starts with the definitions from set theory that you need to know to understand the underpinnings of linear algebra and works up from there so you don’t need any previous background in any sort of mathematics.

The book’s format is a bit quirky, with one manga character teaching another about linear algebra, but the result is surprisingly effective. In the real world, different students learn best with different teaching methods. For example, some learn best by reading a textbook, others by working through exercises, and still others by listening to someone explain a topic. I fall into the last group and usually learn the most by watching lectures. Surprisingly this book seemed to fit my learning style fairly well. Even though the “lectures” are given by manga characters, it seemed easier for me to digest than a normal textbook.

The material is presented clearly, logically, and in an easy-to-follow style. I also admit I got hooked on the corny teen romance storyline running throughout the book.

After I finished the book, a friend of mine in middle school took it and used it to teach himself linear algebra! I doubt he was confident of the most advanced material at the very end of the book, but I’m sure the book gave him a great head start. Later he took the book on vacation with him and gave it to his cousins who also read it. This particular copy of the book has seen plenty of use!

My only real complaint about this book is that it doesn’t include many exercises. The characters work through enough examples to give you a decent understanding of the material, but a bunch of exercises would let readers use another method for cementing the information in their minds.

This book also doesn’t cover the full breadth of linear algebra and I vaguely remember some topics from my undergraduate days that weren’t fully explored in this book, but it does provide a good introduction so you’ll be ready for further research into linear algebra either in a class or in a more advanced book.

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