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Cisco Networking Simplified 85

Michael Bennett Cohn writes "Everything about Cisco Networking Simplified screams accessibility: the landscape layout, the softback cover, the illustrations drawn without a ruler that literally take the sharp edges off of computers, servers, and switches (router icons, fortunately, are already round). A note on the cover indicates for the curious that the book is in full color. Each short chapter is broken into 'at-a-glance' subsections on each topic, headed 'Why Should I Care?' and 'What Are the Problems to Solve?'" Read on for the rest of Cohn's review of what he calls an imperfect but good beginner's guide to networking generally, not just Cisco products.
Cisco Networking Simplified
author Paul Della Maggiora, Jim Doherty
pages 268
publisher Cisco Press
rating 6
reviewer Michael Bennett Cohn
ISBN 1587200740
summary Networking terminology and concepts for novices.

This book is clearly written for two types of people: executives from a non-technical background who get flustered when speaking to network engineers, and networking novices looking for a friendly introduction to the subject before they begin serious study for, say, the CCNA.

When I first opened Cisco Networking Simplified, I was a bit put off by the intensity with which I felt the authors and illustrator were trying to convince me just how down-to-earth they are. The organization of the book is such that it's so easy to flip through, the pithy explanations so easy to digest, that one might grow quickly suspicious that here is a book designed more to make the reader feel at ease than to actually teach her anything.

But one would be wrong. CNS is a good basic reference book. It's short because it sticks to the essentials. It's weirdly-inked illustrations do make the concepts clearer. And the friendly tone never gets smarmy. On the contrary, Maggiora and Doherty anticipate a newcomer's reaction to the material well enough to know when to be terse, and when to insert whimsical asides. The unofficial eighth (political) and ninth (technical religion) layers of the OSI model and the use of ISDN to mean It Still Does Nothing are fun tidbits, well-placed, and perhaps even useful as mnemonic devices. The paragraph explaining that "routers switch and switches route," is appropriately illustrated with two people scratching their heads. That the authors make room for "Algorhyme," Radia Perlman's poem describing the Spanning Tree Algorithm (which she also wrote), shows that they know the difference between cute and distracting, and cute and relevant.

There are some problems, though. For example, the discussion of classful addresses is outdated. The class A, B, and C system is presented as the solution to a problem caused by unanticipated Internet growth. That may have once been true, but now the time when the class system was itself perceived as the next wave of that problem has already come and gone (gone, because outside isolated or masqueraded networks, class addressing has been replaced with CIDR). An executive who reads this book and then asks his engineers whether the company has been assigned a class A, B, or C address isn't going to get a lot of respect. A more serious problem is the confusing definition of the term DCE. On page 209, it's "data circuit-terminating device." On page 210, it's "data communications equipment." The first definition is more popular according to a google search, but makes less sense (where does the "E" come from?). Perhaps both definitions are somehow valid, but in a book like this, it shouldn't be the reader's job to figure out which one. And ISDN gets two detailed pages with illustrations, while the more popular (in the U.S.) DSL gets little more than a paragraph.

Also, to call this book Cisco Networking Simplified is not really accurate. A better title might have been: Cisco Presents: Networking Simplified. Cisco has no special claim to, say, IP addressing, which is discussed in some detail. Of course, to write a basic networking book without discussing IP would be silly, and Cisco makes a lot of products that deal with IP addressing. But so do a lot of other companies.

In short, I recommend this book (three of five stars), but with caveats. Technically-minded people who already have some experience in the networking field will probably be put off by the coloring book look-and-feel (but then, it wasn't written for them). Novices who are reading this book as the first step on their way to certification may find that, ironically, it provides much more information on certain subjects (voice over IP, for example) than may be sought. It's hard to imagine anyone reading this book straight through of their own volition: it's a beginner's reference. If you're confused by a topic as it's dealt with in another networking book, you can be fairly sure that if CNS covers that topic, then it contains the simplest explanation of that topic that you're likely to find.

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Cisco Networking Simplified

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  • back a few years ago when I was a complete noob, I read "Networking for Dummies". Pretty good read, and taught me all I needed to get me started. Maybe this is one I can recomend to my noob friends.

    • by Suppafly ( 179830 ) <slashdot@sup[ ] ['paf' in gap]> on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @12:59PM (#7511666)
      people always knock the for dummies books, but I've found a lot of them to be good informative introductions to subjects. Sure a for dummies book isn't going to totally cover a topic, but it will give you enough of an introduction to be able to understand a more thorough book better or to persue some internet based learning on your own.
    • A few years ago a co-worker (we were both programmers) bumped into me on the train, as I was reading my "Jazz for Dummies" book.

      He immediately freaked out, thinking that he was missing out on some new dot-com buzzword language/app/whatever. Kind of funny.
    • Back when I started playing with corporate networks and enterprise systems, about 9 years ago, I read "Inside WindowsNT" -- even though, at the time, there were no NT boxes at the location. It just happened to be the best book for tying it all together. What a great starter.
  • More titles (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @12:52PM (#7511609)

    If you liked our "Cisco Networking Simplified" book, be sure to look for these other titles:

    "Learn Brain Surgery in 21 Days"
    "Quantum Mechanics in a Nutshell"
    "String Theory for Dummies"
    • Ok, let's get down to it... really the most important thing for any engineer to be reading (especially if they work in corporate America) is Dilbert []. Get on it!
    • actually, i bought a book called Quantum mechanics for beginners. lots and lots of illustrations, but i just couldn't get past one third of it.

      i asked a friend of mine who is actually doing his doctors thesis on QM, and he didn't think so highly of it; not cause it was a 'for beginners' book, but cause it overly complicated issues, and brought up subjects which were only confusing.

      i took some comfort in that.

      f64 : making rich excuses for being poor
    • "String Theory for Dummies"

      Chapter 10: Flax or Cotton-Poly Blend?

  • The review talks a lot about the basic networking explained in the book, but does it go into specifics with regards to CISCO gear? I'd think that would be as important for someone considering a CCNA cert.
    • Just so you all know the CCNA certification manual (the big thick book) has practice tests that are suspiciously weak. It leaves one who just failed the CCNA exam having passed the practice test the night before feeling a bit burned. It's almost as if Cisco makes more money if you take the test twice.
  • Nice cross-post... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by belgar ( 254293 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @12:54PM (#7511624) Homepage both Slashdot and Amazon. [] Threw me for a second when I started reading Amazon reviews. Isn't that illegal on Slashdot?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Buy Linksys.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @12:57PM (#7511653)
    Chapter 9 - security []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @01:03PM (#7511695)
    Why not just get everything for free at ?
  • Looks like I'll get the book for my children so I can have meaningful discussions with them regarding IP addressing and routing at home. At least the layout will appeal to them...
  • DCE (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    DCE means Digital Communication Equipement. The DCE need to communicate with a DTE which stands for Digital Terminal Equipement (which is basically only a synchronising process between 2 routers or CSU/DSU or also frame relay. Nothing too fancy there.
  • by bs_02_06_02 ( 670476 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @01:19PM (#7511830)
    Here's a good all-around book that I've had for at least 8 years.
    "Understanding Data Communications (7th Edition) by Gilbert Held.
    It's good at explaining a lot of things, right down to decoding packet headers for various things. If you don't need that kind of detail, it's still a great book for the uninitiated. fitting it into the real world. I've got a dog-eared second edition that I've loaned to a number of people through the years.
    Cisco has been good at training materials for quite some time. I sat through every Cisco class offered they had in 1995. The training materials were very good.
  • Routergod [] is a great source for networking information.

    Experts such as Charles Manson [] explaining static routes. Don King [] explaining IP access lists and Denise Richards [] on the PIX Firewall. Those celebs really know their stuff.
  • I receive a lot of "junk mail" from Cisco and received an offer for this book free of charge. I threw it away, looks like I should have used it and take advantage of the book.
  • One step closer to the Dummification of the I.T. Field. Still waiting for the Cisco Virtual Private Networking for Dummies, myself. The sad thing is then and only then maybe my company will get their stuff working properly.
  • This book costs $2 more at Amazon. Spend $4.01 more to get free shipping.

    For more reviews of this book and other information, check out my new site: [].
  • by alansz ( 142137 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @02:52PM (#7512587) Homepage
    Those interested in Algorhyme can find it in the abstract to Perlman's paper on spanning trees []
  • If you need... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Medieval ( 41719 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2003 @03:33PM (#7513019) Homepage
    ... a book called Cisco Networking Simplified, you probably shouldn't be doing networking that you need to use Cisco products for.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein