The Manga Guide to Relativity

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There's a special place in my heart for non-traditional science books. I snapped up Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in graphic novel form. And I'm still drooling over the copy of Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout that sits in my colleague Laura's office; it tells its story through collages and has a glow-in-the-dark cover.

And now I'm enjoying The Manga Guide to Relativity (and its brethren; when I asked for a review copy of the latest in the series, the publisher sent me six additional books). If you're not familiar with the manga genre, it's quickly recognizable on first glance. They're Japanese comic books and the characters have that familiar anime look. These comics are often written for adults---so mixing manga and hard science isn't an odd thing---and they've got a huge fanbase here in the United States, where translated versions are sold, as well as in Japan.

Any comic book needs a story---in this one, Minagi, a high school junior, is told that if he learns about relativity over summer vacation, then he will save the rest of his classmates from summer studies. If he fails to learn the subject and write a paper at the end, he will have to be the headmaster's personal secretary during his senior year. Minagi takes on the challenge, guided by a physics teacher, Miss Uraga.

The story is split into four sections, punctuated by four questions: What is relativity? What do you mean, time slows down? The faster an object moves, the shorter and heavier it becomes? And, what is general relativity? In each section, Miss Uraga guides Minagi through the topic, covering relevant history, equations and examples. But it's not that straightforward, of course, because there's a story to tell, complete with a pretty girl and a dog. In addition, the end of each chapter has a short textbook-like conclusion, which adds some needed depth on each topic.

When I asked a manga-reading friend for his opinion of the book, he said that the drawings were good for the genre. I found the story to be compelling and amusing, often sending me into the giggles, and the explanations to be understandable, which is what you want from a textbook (and not always the case when it comes to physics). What I love about books like these is that they can grab readers who might not otherwise be interested in the topic (I rarely pick up books about Einstein's theories, for example) and teach concepts in news ways. The Manga Guides definitely have a place on my bookshelf.

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