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Beginning Perl

by mooseboy (Pilgrim)
on Dec 01, 2002 at 16:07 UTC ( #216772=bookreview: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Item Description: An introduction to Perl for non-programmers by Simon Cozens

Review Synopsis:

If you were asked to name some publishers of Perl books, Wrox wouldn't be the first name that springs to mind. There's O'Reilly, of course, and you could add Manning and Addison Wesley to the list. But Wrox? The author of Beginning Perl, Simon Cozens, is, on the other hand, a noted Perl hacker who is currently involved in the development of Perl 6. As a relative newcomer to the language, the main question on my mind as I began reading this book was: could Simon, like Marvin in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, think down to my level without getting a headache?

The first thing that strikes one when reading this book is the standard of editing and typesetting. Frankly, it's poor. It gets off to a bad start (the first word in chapter 1 should have been "Virtually", but the "r" has gone missing), and doesn't get much better. There are an amazing 28 people credited with having worked on this book, but even their combined efforts couldn't stop Apache being spelt with two p's, the pi symbol being reduced to a blob in several places, a chunk of the index pages being misnumbered, and various other mishaps.

The next thing that stands out is that the book seems unsure of its target audience. The back cover notes that it is aimed at "those new to programming who want to learn with Perl" and indeed, Beginning Perl does kick off with such basic questions as "What is programming anyway?" and "How do computers see number and letters?" However, in chapter 7, we read: "Now if you're familiar with (C) pointers, please try and put the knowledge aside..." This makes no sense. How would someone who needs to be told what programming is in chapter 1 suddenly have acquired a knowledge of C pointers by chapter 7?

Another confusing example: in chapter 11, on OOP, Simon advises us to use the Perl my $galileo = Person->new; syntax and avoid the C++-style my $galileo = new Person; but then ignores his own advice in the CGI chapter. Again, this sort of thing should have been caught by an editor.

The book does have its good points. The basics are covered reasonably well, and I liked the chessboard example that Simon uses to demonstrate references (although even here the pieces are in the wrong order). Later, when we get to downloading modules from CPAN, writing CGI programs and working with a mySQL database, the step-by-step instructions are clear and helpful.

We'll deduct more points, however, for not even mentioning a certain monastery in the "useful websites" section, and for the large amount of padding. The functions reference and the list of standard modules I can just about live with, but by the time we get to the ASCII character set and the GPL, it feels like being strapped to a chair and being forced to listen to Vogon poetry -- you just want to scream "Stop!"

To sum up: somewhere in here, there is a decent introduction to Perl struggling to get out. In the hands of a different publisher, and with a good editor, this might have been a good book. As it stands, however, it is difficult to escape the feeling that the author has been rather let down by Wrox. The usual book recommendations for learning Perl are merlyn and Tom Phoenix's Llama for those who already program, and Andrew L Johnson's Elements of Programming with Perl for those who, like myself, are new to the whole thing. There's probably room in the market for another good introduction to Perl, but Beginning Perl is not it. Perhaps an improved second edition (if Wrox are planning one) might be.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Beginning Perl
by Marza (Vicar) on Dec 02, 2002 at 07:29 UTC

    I would argue against your assertions. I have had good success with Noobs who don't even have a shell background picking things up from the book.

    I don't suggest the Llama book to complete noobs as I have seen it confuss them. One junior admin gave up trying to learn Perl after trying to use it. He got this book and now he is on to the Llama book.

    I consider the book to be a good intro and a good steping stone.

Re: Beginning Perl
by Juerd (Abbot) on Jun 03, 2003 at 08:01 UTC
Re: Beginning Perl
by jryan (Vicar) on Dec 02, 2002 at 12:14 UTC
    To be fair, the Beginning Perl wasn't published until June of 2000; however, Perlmonks was still in its infancy at this time; for proof, take a look at Ovid's homenode number, as he joined the monastery in early June of 2000.
      I cannot say if the book is 100% correct or not since i'm just a beginner. All i can say is that I went into Barnes and Nobles as a complete perl (and programming) noob and i took the llama and this book and i compared them. I noticed the llama was complicated and indeed confusing me. So I bought this one, and i haven't felt sorry yet. I think it is a very good choice to start perl with if you are a complete noob in programming.
Re: Beginning Perl
by initself (Monk) on Dec 10, 2005 at 06:40 UTC
    The Second Edition is credited to James Lee with Simon Cozens and Peter Wainwright. The pagination differs drastically from the online version. Remember that when quoting.
Re: Beginning Perl
by mulander (Monk) on Dec 10, 2005 at 10:45 UTC
    I think the most important thing about this book is it's magical ability to draw you like a magnet. Once I started reading I couldn't get my hands off it until I finished. The author came up with many good examples that do not get you bored fast, and after I finished reading my apetite was so encouraged by the author that I ordered 8 other perl books. A bad book disencourages you from further reading and this book develops appetite and most importantly he did enough pressure on me to never ever forget to use warnings; and use strict; I think that's also important.
    I gladly recommend this book to everyone that wants to start learning perl, but don't stop after reading it, dive deeper into perl. Once you hit the bottom you will no longer need air to breath.

    Sorry for my grammar mistakes, english is not my native language.
Re: Beginning Perl
by pritesh (Scribe) on Aug 18, 2010 at 14:17 UTC
    Hi, I am a newbie to programming. In my honest opinion, I find this a great book. It tells you why a certain output is given the way it is. I do have Learning Perl and am pretty sure that someone with prior programming knowledge would find it quite fulfilling, but for a newbie like me, Beginning Perl is the way to go. Notes in the book, like when the author tells you that a prefix, like say $ or @ represents what I want to get, not what I have already got, thats what sets this book apart from others. If you are a newbie to perl and/or programming, I would suggest this book. Its been quite a while since the book came out, around year 2000 or so, but I still find it quite helpful. So thought its better to put a comment and let all the newbies know.
      I am very new to programming and about perl i would say Beginning Perl by Wrox was the first book i read. I think most of the things are explained nicely..However, definately i would say it could be better than it is.. Specially second half of it could be much better..
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