Cartoon guide to the uninteresting

If you’re not interested in a subject, do cartoons make it more palatable?

My guess is that cartoons may help keep your attention if you’re moderately interested in a subject. If you’re fascinated by something, cartoons get in the way. And if you’re not interested at all, cartoons don’t help. The cartoons may help in the sweet spot in between.

No Starch Press has given me review copies of several of their Manga Guide books. The first three were guides to the universe, physics, and relativity. I’ve reviewed these here and here. Recently they sent a copy of the newest book in the series, The Manga Guide to Biochemistry.

I’m much more interested in physics than biology, so I thought this would be a good test: Would a manga book make it more interesting to read about something I’m not very interested in studying? Apparently not. It didn’t seem that the entertaining format created much of an on-ramp to unfamiliar material.

It seemed like the information density of the book was erratic. Material I was familiar with was discussed in light dialog, then came a slab of chemical equations. Reading the book felt like having a casual conversation with a lawyer who periodically interrupts and asks you to read a contract.

Someone more interested in biochemistry would probably enjoy the book. Please understand that the title of this post refers to the fact that I find biochemistry uninteresting, not the book. If I had to study a biochemistry book, the Manga Guide to Biochemistry might be my first choice. At times I’ve found biochemistry interesting in small doses, describing a specific problem. But it would be nearly impossible for me to read a book on it cover to cover.

O’Reilly’s “Head First” series is similar to the Manga guide series, though the former has more content and less entertainment. I enjoyed the first Head First book I read, Head First HTML with XHTML & CSS. Maybe I enjoyed it because the subject matter was in the sweet spot, a topic I was moderately interested in. The cartoons and humor helped me stick with a dry subject.

When I tried another Head First book, I was hoping for more that same push to keep going through tedious content. The books clearly had the same template though with different content. What was interesting the first time was annoying the second time, like hearing someone tell a joke you just heard. So at least for me, the Head First gimmick lost some of its effectiveness after the first book.

4 thoughts on “Cartoon guide to the uninteresting

  1. I’m always happy to put in a word for Larry Gonick’s ‘Cartoon History of the Universe’ (now up to seven volumes). I also have his cartoon guides to statistics and genetics – I don’t know what else he’s done.

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