Beyond the Basics in Programming Books

By Deane Barker on December 8, 2008

Programming books are often too afraid to assume anything. You see huge tomes about and PHP/MySQL development that start from the absolutely beginning, to the point of including chapters about what a database is and how it works.

This often drives me nuts. What about people who have come really far with a language already? We’re not looking for a recap — we’re looking for the secret sauce that’s going to take us to next level…and we’re already on level 50 or so.

Put another way, I’m already riding a purple dragon that spits nerve gas and farts nuclear waste. Don’t talk to me about magic short swords.

I encountered this for the first time with Eric Meyer on CSS four years ago. I said this:

In the end, the book wasn’t for me. If you’re a CSS hacker of some repute, you’re probably not going to get a lot out of this book. […] I was really looking for some wicked tips and theories to earn myself entrance to CSS Nirvana.

As you get more and more skilled, it becomes a problem finding books that start where your knowledge ends and go further. That’s not to say you know everything, but you often find yourself skimming through a 1,000 page reference to find maybe one or two tips to add to your arsenal. How many times have you bought a book for a single chapter?

I was prompted to write this post because I was in Barnes and Noble this afternoon and stumbled on More Effective C#, which exactly the kind of book I can rarely find. I started paging through it, and I can safely say my mind was thoroughly blown by about page 20. This is a book that assumes you have Neo-like C# skillz and goes from there. I wish there were more of these.

I think that at a certain point, we’ll see more and more ebooks that cater to the non-beginner. I’m reminded of the two ebooks by Chris Love that I discussed in this post. These are two titles with assume a lot of knowledge and build upon that, without any room for recapping the basics.

If anyone has titles of books that assume a lot of knowledge about a platform and build on that, please comment. I’m curious in finding out what they have in common, who is publishing them, and how they approach and warn the potential buyer of the fact that they’re leaving Kansas by the end of the preface.

What This Links To


  1. For Java, I like the Effective Java by Joshua Bloch. It gives different tips on making decent code great by playing to the strengths of the language and also effectively using the standard libraries. I pick it up lots of times just to refresh. Any suggestions for a book like that on Python?

  2. I liked Pro Javascript Techniques by John Resig .. although he does give an intro in his first chapter , its not the irritatingly dumb kind – although I am good at JS I found the examples absorbing.

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