Thank you for your response. To clarify, I'm not an elitist that rejects cartoons and informal style. For example, I think the "Calculus for Dummies" with the cartoons is a good math book.
I'm also not really not talking about the visual "clutter" that others complain about either.
Cartoons are fine but I prefer that the drawings/illustrations really impart knowledge or insight rather than "decorate" a book's page like wallpaper.
For example, I looked at "Head First Networking". Using Amazon's "Look inside" feature to browse some pages:
- page 1: the clipart of the man and woman and the thought bubbles do not reward the user with quality knowledge in relation to the space they take up
- page 19: the clipart of the tourist with the arrows and thought bubble does not actually teach a networking concept
My point is: just because a book has cartoons & unserious style doesn't mean it has good presentation of teaching. It might be a suboptimal book that just happened to use cartoons.
Another way to put it: Comics can be a very powerful way to illustrate concepts but their power is underutilized in the Head First books. The cartoons are often "jokes" instead of teaching.
>which, to many people, reads as non-serious
Similar to cartoons, I have similar complaints about "conversational style" that many authors think helps with pedagogy but it really doesn't. (You can explain things terribly while using a conversational tone, and likewise, explain things clearly with a serious tone.) I'll save that criticism of that for another essay.
If "you can explain things terribly while using a conversational tone, and likewise, explain things clearly without a serious tone", then does it not suggest the tone is not a good signal for quality?
David Griffith's Intro to EM book is written in conversational style. And is by far the best book I've seen on introductory EM (and I've read a bunch).
You highlighted my spelling mistake and I updated the post to correct it. My examples were meant to be opposites.
There are many bad books out there with a conversational style. There are good ones too. The problem is that readers are mislead by the easy-going tone of the first few pages and therefore lulled into thinking it's a quality book because of its chattiness and informality.
Likewise, many authors writing in a conversational style think they wrote an easy-to-understand book because it's conversational. That cause & effect isn't true. One can write a beginner book that has clear teaching with or without a conversational style.
I hope you're not implying that I don't have good presentation or don't teach well! I'd obviously disagree with that. And I definitely think that the Head First books mentioned by others in their responses do a great job with both.
But I notice that you said "suboptimal," and then made this point:
> - page 1: the clipart of the man and woman and the thought bubbles do not reward the user with quality knowledge in relation to the space they take up
I recommend against judging the "optimality" of a book based on the amount of information that it packs into the smallest amount of space. Maybe instead of the amount of space taken up by the teaching, consider using the amount of time and effort required by the reader. Pages are cheap, especially in an electronic medium. A page like the one you mentioned is really quick to read and absorb.
> - page 19: the clipart of the tourist with the arrows and thought bubble does not actually teach a networking concept
I haven't read Head First Networking, and I don't know the authors, Al Anderson or Ryan Benedetti. But from a quick read, it's clear that that picture is part of a larger story (in this case, about tourists and an airline) that the authors are using as a teaching tool. Stories are a very effective teaching tool.
This should make sense if you think about it. Think about the last textbook that you read. Can you remember the major points that it made, in order? You might be able to, but most people probably can't do it accurately. Now think about the last movie you watched. It's much more likely that you can remember most or all of the major plot points and in the right order, because they're part of a consistent story.
Our brains are wired to remember stories, just like they're wired to remember places, faces, and emotions. The Head First books use stories to take advantage of this effect, not dissimilar to how people use memory palaces (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2395739) to improve their recall.
Yes, telling stories (especially visually) takes a lot of page space. But readers absorb them quickly -- in my experience, it's a very efficient and effective way of teaching. The Head First books that I've read (and hopefully the ones that I've written!) do a great job of that.