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Head First JavaScript 76

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
stoolpigeon writes "Head First JavaScript is one of the latest entries in O'Reillys Head First series. Like the other Head First books, it takes a somewhat unique approach in conveying information. The stated intent of the series is to help readers learn and retain material by formatting it in a manner that assists in meeting those goals. This means that the book is full of graphics, exercises and humor. There is also a refreshing note on who will benefit from the book. I've pretty much always thought of these sections in books as entertaining, in that I get to see what new way a publisher has found to say, "Everyone should buy this book!". Head First Javascript actually does a decent job of describing who this book will help, and who it will not help. That alone had me intrigued right from the start." Read on for the rest of JR's review.
Head First JavaScript
author Michael Morrison
pages 615
publisher O'Reilly Media Inc.
rating 9/10
reviewer JR Peck
ISBN 0-596-52774-8
summary A Brain-Friendly Guide
Who is this book for? It is for someone looking to learn JavaScript, with access to a computer and a desire to learn the material through writing code and working through a variety of written exercises. The book begins with the very basics of scripting and as it states, is probably not going to be enjoyed by an experienced programmer who is looking for a JavaScript reference guide. There is a lot of white space, drawings, pictures and opportunities to do the exercises I mentioned as well as the answers to those exercises. For the experienced coder just looking for an api or methods and properties, this will probably feel like a bloated waste of time.

Someone like me on the other hand, who would like to take a JavaScript class but just doesn't have the time, this book was just what I needed. I have done some programming, so I did breeze through some portions of the book, but in others I didn't mind the review. I like having new information and ideas soak in over time. This book is paced just for that kind of learning. It is possible though for someone to be too new to the topic. Some understanding of html and css would really be helpful. Someone who doesn't have at least an idea of how those technologies work may struggle a bit. Though I would think a little time with google would provide everything necessary to be up to speed.

There is an 8 page introduction that explains the reasoning and methods behind the books approach. The "Read Me" portion gives some great insight into just what this book is like. It begins, "This is a learning experience, not a reference book." and follows that up with seven main points. To summarize them, the book teaches what someone needs to know to get up and running. It is not exhaustive, it does not go over the history of the language. There are many finer points not addressed. Using multiple browsers would be helpful to the reader working through the book. Skipping activities will greatly reduce the value of the experience. There is quite a bit of redundancy, it is on purpose and beneficial. The examples are as slim as possible to focus on what matters and finally, not all exercises have definitive answers. If any of that turns your stomach, this really may not be for you.

The format does pretty much make reading straight through the book without working the exercises a waste of time. This was my biggest challenge with the book. If I wanted to read it I needed a pencil, my laptop, free time and somewhere I could work through at least a whole exercise at a time. This wasn't something I could fit in 20 minutes a night before bed. The authors recommend making it the last thing read before bed, but the end of my days are too busy to fit an exercise in. I found that a lunch hour, or a quiet week-end afternoon were my best opportunities for learning.

When I found those times, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. The humor was corny at times but almost always funny. I even chuckled out loud more than once. The exercises are widely varied as are the interspersed scenarios and stories that accompany the examples. I downloaded the necessary images for examples from the books web site though I avoided using downloaded code. It caused more errors due to typos, but I felt like I did better typing in the examples myself. I enjoyed working the cross-word puzzles and reading the 'interviews' with various pieces of technology. The time invested was much greater than for any other tech book covering similar ground, but I felt like the return justified the added time.

The style and humor reminded me quite a bit of the Dietel and Dietel How to Program books. I think that the scope is similar as well, as far as beginning from the very basics and building with each chapter. Head First starts with a basic description of just what JavaScript is and what it adds in the form of interactivity and finishes with a chapter that gives a good introduction to Ajax. In between the reader learns about all the basics like variables, looping, user input, validation, control flow, functions, code reuse, objects, etc.

As a hobbyist I felt like this was a great introduction to JavaScript. I think it gave me a foundation to build on and the ability to use more of the materials freely available on the web. Sometimes there is just so much of that out there, that it is difficult to know where to start. One of my primary goals in reading this book was to put together a couple simple web apps for myself as well as to get a better understanding of using the DOM for some Firefox plugins I would like to write. This book met those needs.

I think it is good to mention though, one last time, this is not a no-nonsense reference manual. In fact there is lots of non-sense and it is actually quite a bit of fun. But if the idea of 2 or 3 pages of big pictures to get across a couple simple ideas about data types bothers you, don't spend the money on this book. It will just annoy you and you will probably feel ripped off. On the other hand, if you've picked up hefty programming manuals and found that you didn't make it a quarter of the way through, and didn't remember much of the quarter you did finish, this approach may be much more friendly and give you a taste of success. And what good is a more information dense book if you don't read it or learn from it?

The table of contents gives a short summary of each chapter and a breakdown by section. The section titles are good for finding a place you read or stopped but wont always help find a topic. They are often named with the name of the exercise, not the subject they address. The index is good though and will help quickly track down topics. Like many new O'Reilly books, this one comes with 45 days free access to the electronic version of the book on Safari. The books site, linked above, has the table of contents, index, code examples and the complete second chapter available for viewing and/or download.

You can purchase Head First JavaScript from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Head First JavaScript

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  • Re:Maybe I'm wierd (Score:2, Informative)

    by crosstalk (78439) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @01:33PM (#22871308) Homepage
    I like the HF books as well, Even the head Rush books have been good. The head rush ajax book was very well written. and helped show how some of the basics worked. The cartoons and color and everything kept me interested. In my team here we use them pretty heavily, as there is no formal education here.
  • I found it helpful (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nerdposeur (910128) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @02:16PM (#22871864) Journal

    I have also read (most of) Head First Javascript, and at the beginning of it, I fit the description of their ideal reader: knowledge of HTML and CSS, no programming experience.

    I bought Headfirst JS at the same time as O'Reilly's "JavaScript: The Definitive Guide," which I've hardly cracked due to its dull style and assumption that the reader is already familiar with other languages. The difference between the two for a beginner is night and day - although of course they serve different purposes.

    The way they explain things may seem childish at first, but it makes things memorable, and the times when I did the "busy work" of filling out crosswords of terms and penciling in missing code in examples were the times I learned the most.

    For example, in explaining data types, they have you circle items in a drawing of a city street and tell what kind of data type would represent them: boolean for a car's blinker, string for the title of a shop, number for a 3-way traffic light. The concept of data types had not been clear to me in The Definitive Guide, so I appreciated HFJS's approach of representing real-life information as data types.

    A few concepts seemed unclear at first - like the difference between writing a function and actually calling it - but overall this is a very helpful introduction to Javascript, and fairly painless to read. Once you get the basics, other books would be better for reference.

  • by edalytical (671270) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @02:26PM (#22871988)
    AFAIK, the HF Java book is used for the Data Structures course a UC Berkeley. If it's good enough for Cal students, it should be good enough for anyone.
  • Re:Not a fan (Score:3, Informative)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @02:51PM (#22872312) Homepage

    I agree. All the whizbang graphics and jokes in the Head First books don't translate to more efficient learning. The most friendly language tutorial I've ever seen is Mark Pilgrim's Dive into Python [amazon.com] , which with its simple typesetting initially seems dull as dishwater, but which is excellently worded and combines friendliness with rigour. A pity O'Reilly never commissioned Pilgim to come abroad and write more resources for developers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @04:50PM (#22873896)
    It seems that this book won't help with the copy and paste programs you get all over the net. Looking at the sample code they seem to focused on the DOM rather than the language itself, and they use plenty of DOM0 (i.e. non-standard) methods and use "</" in places which should actually close the script block in a standards compliant browser. There isn't anything that really exploits the OO features of ECMAScript and shows you how to write a properly structured program.

    I think that its a lack of understanding about the powerful ECMAScript features (such as scope chains and prototype based inheritance) actually works that leads to things like prototype.js, which is just a drain on physical resources (not that many people care) without any really useful features.

Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images. -- Jean Cocteau

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