Book Review: The Manga Guide to Statistics

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I recently got an offer from someone at No-Starch Press to review the
newly translated book, The Manga Guide to Statistics. I recieved the book a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t had time to sit down and read it until now.

If you haven’t heard of the “Manga Guides”, they’re an interesting idea. In Japan, comic books (“Manga”) are much more common and socially accepte than they typically are in the US. It’s not at all unusual to see Japanese adults sitting in the subway reading Manga. Manga has a very distinctive artistic style, with its own
set of common artistic conventions. The Manga Guides are textbooks written as
Manga-style comics. In this case, it’s an introductory text on statistics.

The short version of the review: terrific book; engaging, thorough, and fun. Highly recommended. Details beneath the fold.

The text is divided into chapters in a fairly conventional fashion. Each
chapter starts with its presentation of the basic material, and is
followed by a bit more detailed information in non-comic form, and a collection
of exercises.

  1. Determining Data Types
  2. Getting the Big Picture: Understanding Numerical Data
  3. Getting the Big Picture: Understanding Categorical Data
  4. Standard Score and Deviation Score
  5. Let’s Obtain the Probability
  6. Let’s Look at the Relationship Between Two Variables
  7. Let’s Explore the Hypothesis Tests

The central conceit of the book is that it’s about a girl named Rui who meets one of her father’s coworkers, and thinks he’s incredibly cute. She attempts to get her
father to hire the coworker to “tutor her” in statistics. Instead, he hires
another coworker – a geeky college student. Most of the book then consists of her
lessons on statistics with her tutor.

Once it gets to the actual material, it’s extremely well-done. It uses an example-driven approach – everything starts with an example of why you’d want
to figure something out, followed by a fully worked example, followed by some
more detailed explanation of what it means and how you’d want to use it. It’s
a very good approach to the topic. For example, chapter three starts with Rui
showing her tutor a poll that her school used to select new school uniforms. This
is used as a launching point for talking about how to use statistics for
data that isn’t continuous/numerical data.

When I first started reading it, my initial impression was “This is really silly”.
The whole “girl with a crush thing” turned me off a bit, and the art is rather
precociously cute. But as I kept reading, I warmed up to it. It is overly cute at times, but the comic style really does help to keep the material engaging,
and it does an amazingly thorough job as a basic introduction to the ideas behind statistics and statistical analysis.

As I said, it starts each chapter by introducting an example. The entire chapter is typically driven by that example – so the quality of the selected examples is very important, and fortunately, the author did an excellent job of choosing good examples for illustrating his points.

The book is remarkably thorough for it’s length. It manages to cover all of the basics – means, medians, deviations, basic probability, distributions, and hypothesis
testing – all in around two hundred pages of comics! And it doesn’t just cover them,
but it does a good job. By the end of this book, you’ll understand when, where, how, and why to apply each of the ideas described in the book.

This is really what a good math text should be like. Unlike the majority of
books on subjects like statistics, it doesn’t just present the material as a dry series of pointless-seeming formulas. It presents statistics as something fun, and something enlightening. It shows you why you should care about this material, and how it’s useful even to people in non-mathematical fields.

All in all, I’m extremely pleased with it. I thought the idea of the Manga Guides was good, but I really wasn’t sure of how well they could carry it off. As it turns out, they carried it off wonderfully. In fact, I think that this is now my favorite
introductory text on statistics! It’s fun, engaging, clear, and thorough (if a bit overly cute). Highly recommended for anyone who’s interested in basic, elementary statistics.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Manga Guide to Statistics”

  1. Silly question: how would you say it stacks up against Larry Gonick’s & Woollcott Smith’s Cartoon Guide to Statistics?
    (I already have the Gonick/Smith, but I’d imagine the manga guide takes a different tack both stylistically and in content)
    Ooh, I see there’s a manga guide to calculus too. I may need that for the office.

  2. I like the Gonick and Smith book, but then, I’ve liked every book illustrated by Gonick. (He was the first author I wrote a fan letter to [blush]. Well, it was an e-mail, to which he sent a very nice e-mail in reply.) Now, it looks like I’m obligated to get this one and write a comparison.

  3. I don’t know if I like the manga-guy explains math thing – but what I like is that you give us a review on a book you think we could like – more of this please.
    Statistic is a good example – I allways found statistics way to boring – so now after a few years I think it is fair to say that I forgot allmost everything about it (I was allways more the “pure” math guy).
    Of course now I stumple across some situations where it would be good to have some knowledge ready (sad but true but the point in applied math is that you might see this from time to time in your daily work).
    Of course I don’t have the time to read a complete undergraduate level book about statistics (who has) – so some nice, short introduction that get to the point without throwing all the nice stuff away (no recipes book – I tend to want to know what I’m doing) would be great … but I guess you have to work for that 🙁

  4. Its great to see that you are providing some light on advanced mathematics topics. I am a math tutor by profession and belong to sunnyvale. Your blog has been a helpful resource to provide math lessons to my students in Sunnyvale.
    Regards:
    Larysa

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