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Thinking in Java
by Bruce Eckel
Paperback, 1100 pages
Published by Prentice Hall Computer Books
Publication date: March 1998
"Thinking in Java" (or TIJ for short) is a thick 1100 page
volume with an original, distinctive cover. It is unique that not only all examples from
the book, but the full text of the book is available from the author's website.
I like the idea of cover -- the idea of programming as a kind of craft. Polished wood on the cover looks natural. It's inspired by the "American Art & Crafts Movement" that emphasized the importance of the individual craftsman in the use of modern tools.
The main idea of the book is right -- the programming language should be learned through experimentation with available implementation. Examples are well structured to expose the properties of the language, especially OO features. Such an approach is well suited for teaching. At the same time when examples are designed for experimentation, they fail to reveal typical idioms used in practical programming and this is a drawback of such an approach. To compensate for weaknesses of current examples the author probably can eliminate some water from them and add some examples illustrating idioms and/or provide comments for the examples included with JDK.
TIJ can be considered as one of the first second-generation Java books with a somewhat sober approach to the language. The author does not consider Java as a replacement for C/C++ as it's actually competes with VB and PowerBuilder. The book still contains hype about OO, but on a tolerable level. Some references to design patterns movement have a flavor of proselytizing, but people critical to the patterns movement can easily ignore them. At the same time, the language constructs are explained well, especially OO-related features. Generally the book is focused on high-level staff. JVM and debugging -- the last one is probably the most problematic in adopting Java in large projects (before OO people used to make their own errors; now they tend to inherit them ;-) -- are not discussed at all.
Writing an introductory book on Java is a very tricky task. With each new release of JDK the inflation of the value of already published books is comparable to the inflation of the ruble after the dissolution of the USSR (i.e. more than 100% a year ;-). There are already more than 500 books on Java, and more than 80% of them are introductory. Judging from this standpoint in just three years Java became the 4-th most important computer language after Basic (more than 3000 books), C/C++ (more than 2000 books) and Pascal/Delphi (more than 900 books). There are more books on Java than on Fortran (less than 500), Cobol (less than 500), Lisp (less than 200) -- the languages with more than two decades of history. Java is extremely fashionable. So buyers beware ;-). I use a simple checklist to determine whether a particular introductory programming language book is worth reading:
1. Is the text of the book available electronically or on the CD?
2. Does the author have a personal web-site with an area devoted to the book (if not he probably does not care much about the book)?
3. Does the book have an updated examples and errata available on the WEB (the examples *always* need updating after publishing ;-)?
4. How practical are the examples and how much of the code can be reused ?
5. Is the Donald Knuth article "Structured programming with GOTO" mentioned in a chapter on control structures and short-circuit AND/OR explained in the "if" statement?.
6. Is visibility rules and storage allocation mechanisms (especially difference between static and dynamic allocation) explained clearly using both examples and diagrams ?
7. What books the author recommends ("the friends of my friends ...") ?
Not many books will pass this test, so the choice became much easier. TIJ passes all, but q.4 (examples are designed for experimentation with the language, not for practical use) and q.6 (no diagrams for storage allocation and visibility).
IMHO this book represents a major innovation in publishing -- I would like to call it a parallel publishing. Bruce Eckel has found an extremely interesting solution to make his book different despite a Java introductory books glut -- he published the book on the WEB first. This "Try before you buy" approach has a lot of advantages. As he states in the foreword "it turned out to be the smartest thing I've ever done with a book". The book definitely benefited from comments and suggestions of early readers. Several publishers are now trying this approach (see for example McGraw-Hill betabooks site), but to a more limited extent (final copies of the books are never available from the McGraw-Hill site).
The book was typeset by the author in MS Word 97. That approach always makes the book more up-to-date than a traditional typesetting, and it probably contain less typos than other early 1998 books typeset in a traditional way. All examples that I tested worked. In comparison with other books published in the first quarter of 1998, it contains more recent information. For example, a discussion of the JFC (a.k.a. Swing library).
However, such an approach is not without flaws. The main drawback is that the book lacks diagrams that will clarify concepts (probably partially due to monolithic approach -- MS Word 97 is not very good in working with such long documents). Layout is mostly plain vanilla text with a very few fonts. Important thoughts are not reiterated and were not put in a separate font.
Regrettably, like most other books on Java, examples are all typeset at plain Courier with excessive spacing between the lines. It contributed to the volume of the book. ALGOL-style typesetting of examples would be much better.
First there is a definite advantage that Bruce Eckel is an expert in C++ and has authored four books on C++. So his strongest competitors are the authors who have published books on C++. I read not so many of them and the list below is very limited:
Among other books that worth buying and reading I would like to mention Java in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference (The Java Series) by David Flanagan(see reveiw of by Doug Nickerson in ERCB). Again there is no electronic version of the book available.
On ERCB scale I would like to give the book the following marks (The Originality mark is connected with electronic distribution of the text, low mark on design is connected with lack of diagrams and poor typography.
Explanation of ERCB rating scale: No stars = unacceptable, 1 Star = marginal, 2 Stars = average, 3 Stars = above average, 4 Stars = exceptional.
I recommend this book for readers proficient in at least one procedural language, but who suffer from the inferiority complex and want to learn of all this modern Java/OO staff ASAP;-). The book is definitely useful for teaching the language.
Online version of the book competes with other Java e-books and tutorials. See Yahoo!Java or www.developer.com for the most up-to-day list. Developer.com Java Programming Section is a very useful resource for links to programming in Java and and WEB programming (Perl, HTML, etc.). It contains more documents than I want to list here.
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Last modified: July 07, 2013