|summary||for programmers who know something about web development but are early in their use of Rails,|
I felt timorous and unsure when I finished Agile Web Development with Rails, a marvelous tutorial that introduced me to my first real web development framework (I must have enjoyed it, I just bought the second edition). Since I have volunteered to develop a fairly large and complex web application in Rails I awaited the arrival of my copy of Rails Cookbook with hopeful anticipation and bated breath.
Rob Orsini, his fellow contributors (15 in all) and the team at O'Reilly have once again delivered. Compared to the previous titles in the series I've owned Rails Cookbook seems to have fewer recipes but as it is tackling an entire application framework and some serious issues, some of the solutions and discussions run a lot longer. The book is targeted at programmers who know something about web development but are early in their use of Rails, though it should be helpful to all Rails developers.
The extremely large section on Active Record was to me the most useful. I seem to spend an inordinate percentage of my Rails coding time with Active Record and it contains a large part of Rails power so I appreciated the size of this chapter. By contrast the chapter on graphics is almost entirely unread.
It seems obvious that this book should be compared to Pragmatic's Rails Recipes. The first point of difference is that Rails Cookbook covers installation and setup. The second point is that is 'Recipes' covers Rails 1.1 while 'Cookbook' targets the brand new Rails 1.2. As a project fairly new on the scene Rails is a fast moving target so the six months between the two books makes a difference. Both books have excellent coverage of the various aspects of Rails, with a great deal of overlap. 'Recipes' has more, shorter pieces while 'Cookbook' tends towards longer pieces with more discussion. 'Cookbook' is also more general, with more recipes more likely to be useful in every Rails project you write.
The style is different between the two. Here Cookbook comes off second best, it feels as though tightly edited by a number of hands and ends up lacking personality; functional but cold compared to Recipes. The writing, however, is good. It's easily read, at times it feels like a good textbook. The layout is clean, it is easy to find the information you need from each recipe when you want.
With almost all "cookbook" style books I seem to be left feeling that a number of the recipes are just a little too obvious and covered well in beginner tutorials. There is some of this in Rails Cookbook, most notably the first two chapters, but overall the book will be useful to any beginner to intermediate Rails programmer. Personally I had a couple of moments where I read a tip and wanted to scream as it demonstrated and explained in a few short sentences and half a page of code what had taken me hours to discover for myself.
The "Cookbook" series all seem to be books worth the price and shelf space. This one is no exception. I'd give it three out of five with an extra half for its timely information on Rails 1.2 and would recommend it for all Rails programmers from the absolute beginner through to all but the most experienced. If you already have a copy of 'Recipes' and are happy with it then you might want to stick with that till either volume is updated for the next major revision of Rails, otherwise you will almost certainly appreciate a copy of Rails Cookbook.
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