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What do you look for in a technical book?

Cindy Glass
"The Hood"
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Joined: Sep 29, 2000
Posts: 8521
So what is it that makes you decide to buy one technical book over another on the same topic?
The cover?


"JavaRanch, where the deer and the Certified play" - David O'Meara
Lance Duncan
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Joined: Jul 28, 2003
Posts: 39
obviously, no book is perfect. no book is flawless. and you don't know which book is better to help you learn.
Thomas Paul
mister krabs
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Joined: May 05, 2000
Posts: 13974
Originally posted by Cindy Glass:
So what is it that makes you decide to buy one technical book over another on the same topic?
The cover?

To some extent the cover. The author and the publisher are important.


Associate Instructor - Hofstra University
Amazon Top 750 reviewer - Blog - Unresolved References - Book Review Blog
Lance Duncan
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Joined: Jul 28, 2003
Posts: 39
please refer to
http://www.coderanch.com/forums/
Gregg Bolinger
GenRocket Founder
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Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 15299
    
    6

Originally posted by Lance Duncan:
please refer to
http://www.coderanch.com/forums/

Why are we supposed to refer to that thread?
What I look for are examples, examples, examples. A book can explain something to death, but it helps me to see it in a working example. My favorite tech books are those that teach you with a complete application creation walk thru from beginning to end. So when you finish the book, you have a working product.


GenRocket - Experts at Building Test Data
Lu Battist
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Joined: Feb 17, 2003
Posts: 104
For me it depends on why I am buying the book.
If it is to be a reference, then I like to browse through find a few things I don't know very well and see if the book makes those things clear enough that I think I could use them and also, how good the index is on them.
If it is a book on a subject I know little about, then I'd look for a clear introduction, code examples, and how well the material seems to be organized.
I tend to stir clear of any books in which I find errors or if the code examples don't seem to follow a good style convention.
I also like to look at other people's reviews of the book on this web site and Amazon's. Amazon's is increasingly not helpful because so few people actually review the books anymore except the editor and that review I always skip over.
Amy Phillips
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Joined: Apr 02, 2003
Posts: 280
I agree with Lu, it depends on why you want a book but generally I look for a style I find easy to follow and the sort of examples included. Its also useful to see the contents page to see how relevant the book will be.
References are sometimes useful and I very rarely buy a book from amazon if it doesn't have any reader ratings as these seems to be fairly accurate.
It does often seem to be a lucky dip
William Brogden
Author and all-around good cowpoke
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Joined: Mar 22, 2000
Posts: 12769
    
    5
According to a survey I have been running, when choosing between multiple books on the same topic, the factors in decreasing importance are:
Recommendations from friends or online forums
Author's reputation
Reviews on Amazon
Price
Publisher's reputation
Reviews in magazines
Bill
Mike Southgate
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 18, 2003
Posts: 183
The things I look at are other user's comments, # of examples (lots is best) and the table of contents. Unfortunately, ery few websites list the table of contents for the books which, IMO, is one of the most important evaluation criteria. cost doesn't ever enter the equation.
ms


ms<br />SCJP, SCJD
Andres Gonzalez
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Joined: Nov 27, 2001
Posts: 1561
Originally posted by William Brogden:
According to a survey I have been running, when choosing between multiple books on the same topic, the factors in decreasing importance are:
1.Recommendations from friends or online forums
2.Author's reputation
3.Reviews on Amazon
4.Price
5.Publisher's reputation
6.Reviews in magazines
Bill

In order, 1, 2, and 3.
I don't care about the cover.
[ July 28, 2003: Message edited by: Andres Gonzalez ]

I'm not going to be a Rock Star. I'm going to be a LEGEND! --Freddie Mercury
Lance Duncan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 28, 2003
Posts: 39
Originally posted by William Brogden:
According to a survey I have been running, when choosing between multiple books on the same topic, the factors in decreasing importance are:
1.Recommendations from friends or online forums
2.Author's reputation
3.Reviews on Amazon
4.Price
5.Publisher's reputation
6.Reviews in magazines
Bill

to me, the order is:
1
4
2
5
I don't care much about 3 and 6.
Andres Gonzalez
Ranch Hand

Joined: Nov 27, 2001
Posts: 1561
Originally posted by Thomas Paul:

To some extent the cover. The author and the publisher are important.

now that you mentioned this, what is the relation between the author and the publisher? does an author write different if there's a different publisher?
Does Ed Roman change his writing style because he change publisher?
Does the author write and the publisher approves it?
Does the publisher select a topic and choose the best author to write the book? or viceversa (Does Ed Roman come up with a new EJB 3.0 book and starts looking for a publisher?)
Thomas Paul
mister krabs
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 05, 2000
Posts: 13974
Originally posted by Andres Gonzalez:

now that you mentioned this, what is the relation between the author and the publisher? does an author write different if there's a different publisher?
Does Ed Roman change his writing style because he change publisher?
Does the author write and the publisher approves it?
Does the publisher select a topic and choose the best author to write the book? or viceversa (Does Ed Roman come up with a new EJB 3.0 book and starts looking for a publisher?)


Maybe Ed Roman doesn't change his style but maybe the editors at the publisher suck and screw up the book. I do know that New Riders books that I have read have been consistently awful. AW, Manning, O'Reilly, and APress usually publish good books. I would say that is at least partly because their staff in charge of accepting/rejecting proposals are doing a good job.
Andres Gonzalez
Ranch Hand

Joined: Nov 27, 2001
Posts: 1561
Originally posted by Thomas Paul:


Maybe Ed Roman doesn't change his style but maybe the editors at the publisher suck and screw up the book. I do know that New Riders books that I have read have been consistently awful. AW, Manning, O'Reilly, and APress usually publish good books. I would say that is at least partly because their staff in charge of accepting/rejecting proposals are doing a good job.

So the way it works is, say, I finish writing my book and I give it to Manning (or any other publisher, just an example). They actually make a review of what I've written and they have the rights of changing what they don't feel is "appropiate", right?
Maybe Ed Roman doesn't change his style but maybe the editors at the publisher suck and screw up the book
hmm.. that's bad. So an author can have a bad reputation even though the real problem can be the publisher itself.
Has it happened that an author does not agree with what the editors have changed and decided not to continue writing the book?
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
1) The author.
2) People I respect who recommend it, including other authors referencing other books, friends, colleagues, other JavaRanch folks.
Most of the books I read don't come from, "I need to learn about this topic, now which book should I choose" so much as someone recommending the book. Of course, I rarely read API books these days, so the books I do read tend, within a single topic, to cover a wider range.
--Mark
Svetlana Koshkina
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 108
If it java books, you can look at reviews on javaworld by Zukovski. I liked his reviews and followed the advice.
Deitel books are very good for beginners but price is forbidding. I have one Deitel book that I bought 3 years ago, this and Dog Lea's concurrent programming are most eardogged in my library. I am still looking into Deitel because I know every page and can find reference very quickly. That I can call a good book, but then it costed less than today.
Apart from publisher and author I am choosing books by quality of binding, thinness of paper and print quality. For some reason these stimulate my willingness to commit to reading them. And strangely very often the price is comparable with poor quality books.
Also I buy discount books. Recently I bought Building Enterprise Applications 2001 for only $6 in MicroCenter in Chicago, next day I've seen exactly the same for $50 in Borders. In MicroCenter consequently I bought a lot of discount books and enjoy using them as reference and sometimes reading in selected chunks. True that some info is outdated but actually most of it is ok especially general things like design patterns, some of swing, some of graphics and threading is almost as good as new.
I found that I am getting a lot more info than it costs ($6 dollars for 5-6 pounds of sheer knowledge).
In general, i am book-buying junkie and have to be very careful around bookstores.
Manish Hatwalne
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 22, 2001
Posts: 2578

For me it is usually the recommendation of the people I trust and reputation of the author. Recently I have fallen in love with "Elliote Rusty Harold" (Processing XML with Java) and "Marty Hall" (more Servlets and JSP)) books.
On the second thought, another consideration is - "Do I already have enough books on the same topic?". Like I already have 2 XML books at home so I am unlikely to buy another, since I don't use XML much at work.
- Manish
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Actually, I also choose base on publisher. Right now I'll buy most any book from Dorset House.
--Mark
Stan James
(instanceof Sidekick)
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jan 29, 2003
Posts: 8791
A great table of contents and a kick-butt index. I'm not going to read some 500 page "Thinking in Java Unleashed" from cover to cover, but need to find specific things in a hurry.
Pages that do not look like JavaDoc warmed over.


A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of the idea. John Ciardi
Al Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 30, 2003
Posts: 716
Originally posted by Gregg Bolinger:

Why are we supposed to refer to that thread?
What I look for are examples, examples, examples. A book can explain something to death, but it helps me to see it in a working example. My favorite tech books are those that teach you with a complete application creation walk thru from beginning to end. So when you finish the book, you have a working product.

I prefer my first book on a topic to be a really good examples book. Later on I look for a more theoretical perspective *Best Practices* and all that. I also look for strange books which handle specific topics really well or offer less than mainstream ideas.
Certain publishers have credibility with me, and others get strong scrutiny. Manning tends to put out good stuff. O'Reilly used to be the Gold Standard in technical publishing, but lately they seem more of a mixed bag. Still some top-drawer titles (like Bert and Kathy's recent Java book) but also some losers.
Wrox got a reputation for horrible ensemble books, but a lot of their recent books have been intensely good, particularly those from Expert Press and some of their single-author books.
Sams I am suspicious of. They publish a lot of overlapping '21 days' books and some of them are truly horrible. When I buy an examples book I want the examples to mostly compile, deploy, and run. I don't expect to see the App Server choke on it!
And yet the last Sams title I bought (EJB in 21 Days) worked well on Weblogic and I'm willing to bet the JBoss examples work also, as it appears the authors actually tested the code all the way through. I find Amazon.com reviews very useful in filtering out the worst loser titles.
Another publisher which has credibility with me is Wiley's Bible series.


SCJP1.4, SCWCD
 
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