The Cartoon Guide to Algebra

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.

The Cartoon Guide to Algebra

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.)

One comment

  • Simon

    Before this one, Gonick also did the CARTOON GUIDE TO CALCULUS some years ago. It’s a harder topic but it too was a nice refresher.

    Though I must confess I skipped the algebra one. I’ll shamelessly copy-paste my comment about its Previews listing:

    > For a teen relative, Larry Gonick’s new nonfiction THE CARTOON GUIDE TO ALGEBRA (p. 392, $19 from William-Morrow) — his previous CARTOON GUIDE TO CALCULUS was good (except for a convoluted intro to logs) so this one could float someone’s boat! (Though nowadays there are also free online primers, such as the great site Better Explained, cf. et al.)

    Indeed, online primers can have full-color, unlimited illustrations or animated diagrams, etc., and will probably replace print primers eventually. But some of the best ones will always be made in cartoons by people like Gonick, Hosler, Ottaviani, etc.!

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