The Cartoon Guide to Algebra
It amazes me that Larry Gonick is still turning out such interesting cartoon science guides. I remember reading my first one, The Cartoon Guide to (Non)Communication, back in the early 90s, and here, over 20 years later, I’m still learning things from him.
The Cartoon Guide to Algebra covers a topic I should know, given that I passed high school math, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover how much was new to me. (Starting with an overview of number theory helps.) It takes a few chapters to get into algebraic expressions proper; before then, there are explanations of natural numbers, fractions, negative numbers (particularly necessary for algebra), and the basics of arithmetic, making for a helpful refresher.
A cartoon volume allows particularly well for visual demonstrations of what numbers mean, so readers can grasp concepts, not just rules. I was also pleased to note that Gonick’s illustrative figures have expanded beyond his stereotypical wacky professor —- they’re diverse in size, gender, color, and figure type, demonstrating math for everyone.
There’s a lot of content in this volume. As always, the humorous drawings make the lessons more memorable, providing visual reminders of the concepts. Each short chapter ends with a set of exercises making the book suitable for use in a class.
However, those problems were my biggest source of frustration with the book. Solutions are only provided to selected problems, which makes it tricky to be sure you’re understanding the material if you’re playing along. And I found several errors in the answer keys. (I’m not sure that’s because of typos, mismatched labels, or that I don’t understand the concepts as well as I thought I did. It looks to me like maybe one section (either problems or solutions) was updated without making sure the other was in sync. Regardless, it’s disconcerting.)
By the end of the book, I had a thorough understanding of algebraic equations, the use of exponents, rates and averages, and a reminder of how to solve quadratic equations. It was a pleasant educational read. (The publisher provided a review copy.)