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The Cartoon Guide to Calculus

Larry Gonick
William Morrow
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Mark Bollman
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In light of the fact that Larry Gonick has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, for him to do for calculus what he has done for so many other fields (including physics, statistics, and world history, just to name the ones on my bookshelves) in his sequence of cartoon guides seems obvious. Indeed, one might reasonably wonder what took him so long to turn his drawing tools toward mathematics in general, and calculus in particular.

Such wondering aside, this is an excellent treatment of calculus and a worthy successor to Gonick’s other cartoon guides. There’s an appropriate level of rigor for a seasoned reader or a first-time calculus learner — complete with deltas and epsilons — and the choice of topics is precisely what the mathematical community has come to define as Calculus I and the first part of Calculus II. One unusual feature that I noticed was the delaying of a discussion of continuity to just before the Mean Value Theorem is introduced rather than in the treatment of limits, and while this results in some awkward statements in the limit chapter, it’s a position that’s not unreasonable.

I should mention that “cartoon”, in the case, does not necessarily imply “humorous”. There are places where the reader — experienced or inexperienced in the ways of the subject — will crack a smile, but this is not a collection of illustrated jokes about calculus. Nor does it need to be.

It would be an interesting experiment to augment The Cartoon Guide to Calculus with a larger collection of homework exercises and use it to teach a calculus course, and I suspect that the book would serve well in that role. It may very well be that Gonick was honing his technique on other fields before taking on calculus, and if so, that was time well-spent, for a terrific guide is the result.

Mark Bollman ( is associate professor of mathematics at Albion College in Michigan. His mathematical interests include number theory, probability, and geometry. His claim to be the only Project NExT fellow (Forest dot, 2002) who has taught both English composition and organic chemistry to college students has not, to his knowledge, been successfully contradicted. If it ever is, he is sure that his experience teaching introductory geology will break the deadlock.

The table of contents is not available.