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The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry    by Larry Gonick & Craig Criddle order for
Cartoon Guide to Chemistry
by Larry Gonick
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My teen sons, my husband and I all enjoyed the graphic presentation of scientific concepts in The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry, delivered by the authors of The Cartoon History of the Universe. Cartoon Guides are also available for Genetics, Physics and Statistics.

This one begins with a history of 'Hidden Ingredients'. In this engaging format, we learn that it all started with fire, which turned rocks into copper, mud into bricks, fat and ashes into soap, and so on, till 'chemistry had caused civilization!' A review of Greek and Islamic science, and medieval alchemy, leads into an investigation of gases, the law of Conservation of Matter, the Atomic Theory of Matter, and the Periodic Table, all conveyed with humor. The authors move smartly along to cover topics including 'The Elusive Electron', 'Acid Basics', 'Electrochemistry' and 'Organic Chemistry'. An Appendix explains 'Using Logarithms'.

Cartoon images give a sense of scale, and clever analogies explain concepts, as in a discussion of 'Chemical Reactions' in context of survival on a desert island (where bat guano comes in handy). Occasionally, home experiments are suggested. Humor assists memory and learning, as in an explanation of chemistry as a 'frenzy of togetherness' where most atoms are 'gregarious little critters'. I especially liked the cartoon of a big scientific leap across a chasm filled with calumny, ridicule, failure and obscurity. Another amusing one shows a chemical wizard at a barbecue asking 'How do you like your scandium?' The response - rare!

It has been shown that individuals have varying learning styles, and that many students learn better via imagery than through listening or reading. The incorporation of humor, not only makes learning chemistry much more enjoyable, but aids in understanding and remembering concepts. I highly recommend this graphic series of Cartoon Guides to develop scientific literacy, but also as entertaining reads for students of all ages.

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