The Manga Guide to Relativity

Everything’s gone screwy at Takai Academy. When the crazy Headmaster forces Minagi’s entire class to study Einstein’s theory of relativity over summer school, Minagi volunteers to go in their place. There’s just one problems: he’s never even heard of relativity before! Luckily, Minagi has the plucky Miss Uraga to teach him.

By: Hideo Nitta, masafumi Yamamoto, Keita Takatsu, Trend-Pro Co., Ltd.
Publisher: No Starch Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Science/Physics/Relativity
Price: $19.95
Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve never been very good at the hard sciences or higher mathematics, but the subjects of space and time have always fascinated me. I’m always watching shows on the Discovery Channel and Science Channel about astronomy and physics, where Einstein’s theory of relativity is a foundation for understanding the whys and hows of the universe. So I’ve heard of the theory, and I know what Einstein’s most famous equation, E=mc², stand for, but I’ve never really understood what it means. So when I was offered the opportunity to review a title that explains relativity, I jumped at the chance!

The Manga Guide to Relativity starts with the manga, introducing the characters and situation before diving head-long into the subject. Minagi knows nothing about the theory of relativity, so Miss Uraga starts with familiar concepts from Issac Newton and Galileo Galilei, building on them steadily before getting to the heart of the matter, Einstein’s theory of relativity. There are four chapters, each one focusing on a concept of relativity. Three chapters are devoted to Special Relativity, and the last to General Relativity. Every chapter is filled with examples to help the reader understand the concepts visually, with only a minimal amount of math, and  builds on the previous. The manga portion of each chapter ends with a girl interrupting the lecture, usually by injuring Minagi with a piece of sports equipment. Each chapter ends with a text section that goes over the material again in more technical terms and with all the related equations shown in practice.

Overall, this title did a very good job of explaining the theory of relativity and making its concepts easier to understand, even to a layman. All the visual examples used are simple and easily understood. They are also repeated from chapter to chapter, so when the same concept is used to be built upon, the association is evident. Some of the examples are put in the context of a cultural reference that helps make the meaning more plain, such as using a sentai/power rangers hero for the change from energy to mass, or the Urashima folk tale to better explain time dilation.

The art is plain, and without a lot of detail usually seen in manga. But since the point of the title isn’t the art necessarily, the bare bones style works. It isn’t too distracting, except for maybe Miss Uraga at the pool side.

The big question is though, did The Manga Guide to Relativity help me understand the theory better? I can answer that with an unequivocal YES! So many things I only half understood became much clearer after reading this title. Even some of the equations, which I thought would be so far beyond me started to make sense. E=mc² is more than a formula that I know the words for. The meaning is clear now. I’m not going to say it made me an expert, but now when I watch my science programs, I  have a true understanding of what I’m seeing, and will not feel so lost. This title is a good introduction to the subject, as well as being a good refresher, or supplemental material for students studying astronomy or physics where an understanding of relativity is a must. Even if you are just curious about what relativity is about, I would highly recommend this book.

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