Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Learning Perl, Sixth Edition

Paperback: 390 pages
Publisher: O'Reilly Media; Sixth Edition edition (July 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1449303587
ISBN-13: 978-1449303587

It's been around awhile...the Learning Perl book I mean. Now in its sixth edition, this O'Reilly classic is still going strong. But first things first.

Who is this book for? You don't find out until the first page of Chapter 1, but it's called "Introduction", so I guess that's OK. Is this book for you? Depends. According to page 1, "This is not a reference book. It's a tutorial on the very basics of Perl, which is just enough for you to create simple programs mostly for your own use." In other words, you'll learn Perl but not much more. The reader is presumed to know some programming and is someone who specifically needs to learn Perl. Beyond the basics, don't expect much out of Learning Perl, but that's not a fault of the book. That's its nature. Anything else you need to know, you'll have to get somewhere else. That said, you start learning Perl here.

Why a Sixth edition? That's easy to find in the front matter of the book. The changes are all laid out in the "Changes from the Previous Edition" section. The book's been updated for Perl 5.14, but that's on the cover. Keep in mind that some of the book's sample code will only work with 5.14, so if something seems "broken", check the version of Perl you're using (this section in the book tells you how to do that). Not all of the sample code requires the latest version of Perl, though. A lot of it will work with older versions.

I loved the line in the Preface that said, "We can't give you all of Perl in just a few hours. The books that promise that are probably fibbing a bit." That's the reality of learning how to program in Perl or any other language. I love the honesty. Like Edna says, "I covered the basics." (If you don't know who I'm quoting, turn in your geek badge now).

Now that you know who this book was written for and what it won't teach you, what will it do for you? If you're at all familiar with the prior version, you can expect this book to maintain the same level of excellence as edition five. About the only complaint about that book was that it was too basic, but I've explained that already. The sixth edition is an update on a time-honored Perl book that is designed to just open the door to programming in Perl.

Each chapter provides the conceptual information for the topic at hand and ends with a set of exercises allowing the reader to practice what they've learned. The book doesn't leverage each chapter to allow the reader to build a larger project as they progress through the book. That's often the frustration when I go through beginners books, because I want the programming to actually do something. If you get that feeling, remind yourself about the book's caveat and then keep going.

If you are an experienced coder, this book might seem a little elementary for you, even if you don't know Perl, so there may some parts you'll skim through, but if you need a ground level foundation, Learning Perl is the place to come.

Not much more to say. What you see is what you get. If you want to learn Perl and already know a little about programming, buy this book. It's a good investment in your precious time and your hard earned dollars.

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