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Submission + - Land of Lisp 1

vsedach writes: Remember the 1980s and BASIC, when programming was simple, brains flew through space, and everyone ate lasers? Computer magazines came with code listings, and classics like David Ahl's BASIC Computer Games offered a fun and easy way to get started in computer programming. Conrad Barski remembers, and with Land of Lisp, he's set out to demystify programming in the 21st century.

This is no small feat. Modern computers don't come with anything that looks like BASIC. Getting started with a "real" programming language like Java requires installing and learning hundreds of megabytes worth of compiler and integrated development environment. Barski's thesis is that Lisp is a refreshing alternative — it offers BASIC's ease of getting started (get a prompt, type in code, and it works), while providing a combination of modern features unmatched in other programming languages.

The first thing that immediately jumps out about Land of Lisp is that it has a lot of comics. The book is an outgrowth of Conrad's Casting SPELs in Lisp illustrated online tutorial, which originally appeared in 2004 (incidentally, around the same time as why's (poingant) guide to ruby, probably the most famous and epic programming language comic book). The comics are humorous and irreverent — if you're a C programmer, you might be surprised to know that you're a Cro-Magnon fighting the COBOL dinosaur.

Despite the silly humor and Barski's approach of introducing programming completely from scratch, Land of Lisp builds up to cover topics like graph theory, search algorithms, functional and network programming, and domain-specific languages. All throughout, the book emphasises various techniques for doing I/O. The topics covered will leave the reader with a solid understanding of what modern programming entails and a good basis from which to explore either application or lower-level systems programming.

The most unintentionally impressive aspect of Land of Lisp is that it manages to completely explain web programming. No more hiding behind complicated software stacks and impenetrable web server packages — chapter 13, titled "Let's Create a Web Server!," does exactly what it promises, in only 15 pages. Later chapters introduce HTML and SVG to build a graphical game as a web application. If nothing else, this book will leave the reader with all the necessary basic skills and total confidence in their understanding to build real-world web applications.

Other introductory programming books use Lisp, but none fall into the same category as Land of Lisp. Abelson, Sussman and Sussman's Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs , arguably the greatest introductory programming book ever written, requires a solid math background to understand the examples. Felleisen et alia's How to Design Programs offers a much deeper introduction to programming than Land of Lisp, but is an academic textbook, and hence lacks funny cartoons and may be boring. Friedman et alia's The Little Schemer is a favorite of many, but doesn't have LoL's real-world applications.

Land of Lisp is an excellent book for someone who wants to learn how to program, for web programmers who want to move up out of their niche and start learning about CS theory and systems programming, and for anyone who is puzzled about what really goes on behind the web and wants to learn what web programming is really about. Experienced programmers who want to jump into using Lisp are probably better off with Peter Seibel's Practical Common Lisp, though.

BONUS: Watch Conrad's hilarious promotional music video for the book.
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Land of Lisp

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  • Ok, this is better than the previous try in that the first paragraph hasn't been chopped (see my other submissions for an example of what I'm talking about; I posted this in Chrome, the other ones in Firefox and Opera), but the book info box is not showing up. I've filed a bug report on the SourceForge Slashdot bug tracker already.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger