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Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional 436

nazarijo writes "Python seems to be devouring everything these days, with more and more people using it for serious projects. It's quickly supplanting Perl in some circles, and with good reason. It's a powerful, richly featured language with boatloads of extensions. And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code. Python books are still only a small part of the shelf at your local bookstore when you compare it to the popularity of Perl, but which ones are the gems and which ones are fluff? Having looked at a lot of Python books in the past couple of years, I think that Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional is the one that I'll most recommend to people." Read on for the rest of Jose's review.
Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional
author Magnus Lie Hetland
pages 604
publisher Apress
rating 8/10
reviewer Jose Nazario
ISBN 159059519X
summary Tour the Python language, from basics to advanced modules

Beginning Python is loosely grouped into three main sections. The first deals with Python fundamentals, all the goodies that are inherent to the language and the modules that it ships with. It's surprising to see how rich the language is out of the box, especially when compared to some other scripting languages. The second section would be the chapters covering popular extensions for a variety of services. These include network and web programming, SQL objects, and even GUI programming. And finally the third section is a set of 10 projects in Python, which bring everything together in a concise fashion.

I like this book a lot because it is very clear in its delivery, both the prose and the code examples used, and is consistently Pythonic. The Python language lends itself to a powerful programming style and, unlike Perl, many Python developers I know don't bother with a dozen ways to perform a simple action, they get it done and move on. What you wind up with is clear code that's easily understood by someone new to the language.

Unlike what the title would suggest, Beginning Python isn't only for the first few weeks with the language. The book is large and in depth, and the coverage of material is fantastic in many ways. You get a quick tour of the basics and then you move on to an overview of the language and then its common features. The inclusion of the 10 projects is another benefit to the intermediate user. She can refer back to this book for additional information and pointers from time to time, it wont sit still on her shelf.

That said, there are a few things in the book that I tend to disagree with. For example, the author dissuades you from using destructors in your code, but in my experience they're far more reliable, and a better place to do some cleanup, than he states. A few chapters are also a bit skimpy when they didn't need to be. For example, Chapter 18, which covers packagers like the distutils component from Python, needed to be fleshed out a lot more. This is a powerful feature in Python and sound docs on it should just be there. There's no reason to hold back on something so vital. The section on profiling in Chapter 16 is also a bit thin around the middle when it needn't be. While this seems like a minor point, having a reference to speeding up code (and measuring the improvements) is always nice. And finally, Chapter 17, which covers extending Python, is simply too short for its own good. A more in depth example would have been appreciated.

I have begun recommending this book to people I know that are smart and program in other languages, but aren't very familiar with Python. Many beginners books only take a person so far before they become a useless item on the shelf. This means that he $30 or more that was spent is now gone, so I've grown to be observant of how long I expect a book to be useful. I anticipate the useful shelf life of Beginning Python will be longer than average for most general purpose programming books for a single language. What's more is that it's not a dry reference book. Couple this to a Python cookbook for recipes and you have a two volume "mastering Python" series.

If you've been curious to learn Python and haven't yet found the book that speaks to you clearly, this may be the one. I'm pleased with the quality of the writing, the examples, and the quick pace of the book. While it's nearly 30 chapters in length, most of them are short and focused, making them easily digestible and highly useful. Overall probably the best Python books I've had the good fortune of reading."

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Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional

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