by Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto, Keita Takatsu
published by No Starch Press; $19.95 US
The latest volume in the Manga Guide series explaining math and science with comics is the best yet! It’s got plot, characterization, and exciting visuals, plus my favorite science topic. Relativity is fun because in its thought experiments, it combines philosophy and what seems like magic.
The Manga Guide to Relativity opens with a bang. It’s the day before summer vacation, but the school’s headmaster (aided by his vice principal, who happens to be a dog) has declared that the students need to spend the season studying relativity. When student body president Ruka Minagi stands up to him, they strike a deal — if Minagi will learn the subject from Miss Uraga, all the other kids can have their time off.
The exaggerated images and behavior will provide a giggle to most readers, while the strong lines make the crowded pages easy to follow, with clear central figures. Also humorous is Uraga’s split personality, switching from demure teacher to raging taskmaster. Those touches of comedy lighten what would otherwise be a heavy serving of content.
Special relativity deals with how, at speeds approaching the speed of light, time slows down, length contracts, and mass increases. As Minagi learns the basics of these concepts, so do we. Also, Galileo, Maxwell, Michelson and Morley, and Einstein, of course, make cameo experiences in explaining a brief history of physics, and Uraga is aided in her explanations by a mecha-looking superhero.
Subjects include inertial reference frames, determining that the speed of light is constant, the difference between special and general relativity, figuring time dilation, the twin paradox, how gravity affects light and space-time, and the relationship between mass and energy captured in E = mc2. A lot of information is provided here, and while it requires attention, I never found it overwhelming. It seemed to follow logically and make sense as I was reading. Enjoyable as the comics are, there’s only so much they can cover, so each chapter is concluded with text pages that reinforce and elaborate on the concepts. A sample chapter is available from the publisher.