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Review Review: Beginning JavaScript 3rd Edition

Discussion in 'Articles, Reviews and Interviews' started by tripwire45, May 24, 2007.

  1. tripwire45
    Honorary Member

    tripwire45 Zettabyte Poster

    Beginning JavaScript 3rd Edition

    Authors: Paul Wilton and Jeremy McPeak
    Format: Paperback, 767 pages
    Publisher: Wrox; 3rd edition (May 21, 2007)
    ISBN-10: 0470051515
    ISBN-13: 978-0470051511

    Review by James Pyles
    May 24, 2007

    What do you need to know to get the most out of this book? Practically nothing. What will you learn by using this book? Practically everything about JavaScript and AJAX. Ok, I'm exaggerating... but let me explain. You will need to know basic HTML but if you are planning to use JavaScript to liven up your tired, static website, that's a given. No, you won't learn everything there is to know about JavaScript, but you will learn more than the basics and in fact, if you are patient and stick with the book to the end, you'll be building JavaScript applications by the time you hit the appendix.

    Yes, it's a big book and that makes it daunting. After all, some of you have probably been burned by programming books before that were either too light to teach you any real skills or were so overloaded with technical jargon and hard-to-read code samples that you almost went blind before you finally gave up on them. Yes, it's big. But don't panic. This isn't a race. You don't have to read all 767 pages in 24 hours or in two-and-a-half weeks by reading a chapter a day (there are 16 chapters) or anything like that. After all, what's the rush?

    Yes, I'll admit it. I get impatient. I want to learn everything and I want to learn it NOW! I like the promise of books that tell me that I'll become an "expert" or "guru" in a particular technology in a short and quantifiable time frame. Unfortunately, human learning isn't always so predictable (regardless of what the public education system has to say on the subject).

    It's not so much how fast you learn as how you learn. For me, the book has two highlights: "Try It Out" and "How It Works". Part of my impatience is when a book throws a lot of concept at me before letting me do anything practical. Especially with any kind of programming, you will only really learn how by coding, breaking the code, debugging it, fixing it, and trying again. The "Try It Out" sections of each chapter let you do that. "How It Works" is about the biggest single element in how I learn something. Sure, you can feed me code samples all day long, and I can copy and paste with the best of them, but how will I ever learn to do anything original unless I understand how what I just did works.

    Does that sound like I'm contradicting myself? After all, I did say large chunks of conceptual text doesn't do it for me and part of teaching concept is teaching how things work. There is a method operating here, though. I almost learn in reverse from what conventional wisdom presents in the classroom. Let me at something first...let me try to figure it out and see how far I get, at least with minimal instructions. Once I've hit the final deadend and can't go any further, take me back to the beginning and show me how it works. I'll be able to map what I did at the keyboard with the hows and whys of it and then, it'll start to make sense (no kidding, I just had that experience this week, trying to learn a very complicated document editing platform and that's how I ended up learning the thing).

    Since this is a "beginning" book, the first few chapters almost killed me. How many times have I written the equivalent of "Hello World" in JavaScript, anyway? That's my problem, though. The book is supposed to start out at the beginning, and it does. If this is a little what you're like too, try skipping chapter one and see if you start to pick some new things up a little bit down the road.

    This book is meant to be "lived with". I mean that if you are learning the basics of JavaScript for the first time, make reading with and practicing from this book a daily event or a ritual or even a habit. Work with JavaScript over and over again. Chances are, how you became good at just about anything you do was by sheer repetition. As I said, unless you are a speed reader, comprehend everything you read right away and retain it for life, you'll need to take some time.

    The value added parts included are downloadable code samples from the Wrox website and interestingly enough, a discussion group hosted by the publisher. It isn't just for JavaScript and in fact, covers the topics and technologies contained in Wrox books in general.

    The book is loaded with exercises so plenty of "hands-on" is available. Exercise solutions can be found in Appendix A at the back of the book. Don't cheat. Really try to work through these and use the appendix to verify your answers or to loosen things up when you get stuck.

    As with the "Wrox Programmer to Programmer" model, Beginning JavaScript 3rd Edition is the start of a journey. Related texts include Professional JavaScript for Web Developers and Professional Ajax. Take this book seriously and learn what it has to teach. Once you do, you'll be ready for the next challenge up the ladder.
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