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Richard Elderton (Hampshire, UK)
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Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++ (Developer's Library)
Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++ (Developer's Library)
by Bjarne Stroustrup
Edition: Paperback
Price: £35.79

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No better place to start C++ than here..., 23 April 2009
I had just finished reading Herbert Schildt's book C++: The Complete Reference and had resolved not to read another door stop before devoting much more time to practising the new techniques I had learned. Then I got wind of Bjarne Stroustrup's new book for beginners: Programming Principles and Practice Using C++. Now Dr Stroustrup occupies a very elevated position in the panoply of C++ deities; his words are cast in stone and he is often referred to as "the creator" of C++ (read: he invented it). Most programming tutorials have shortcomings of one kind or another, so I was intrigued to discover what sort of a job BS had done. I was not disappointed.

Firstly, his approach is not to treat learning C++ as a purely language-technical issue, but to talk about programming as a means to the solving of problems, and use C++ (the most versatile and widely used programming language we have) as a vehicle to do this.

After a dedication to Lawrence Petersen, his collaborator on this project, there is an interesting chapter concerning the place of computer systems in modern life.

Programming is introduced in the conventional way with the simplest concepts, then the learning curve becomes progressively steeper (a feature which is required of a reasonably complete introduction to the subject, even given the 1264 pages of this book).

BS uses several techniques that I had not seen before. All the code is printed in a bold typeface in blue. That makes it easier to distinguish code terms from other, possibly similar words within the body text. He does not use unnecessary spaces in his code. This helps to clarify where spaces are actually required by the syntax as opposed to merely beautifying the code. It also allows more characters per line, but the downside is that the code tends to look more crowded.

Nearly every chapter ends with a set of drills (short exercises), a review of all the new material introduced in the chapter, a list of the new terms, a very comprehensive and well thought out set of more substantial exercises and a postscript giving final thoughts. If students were to take on these exercises in a conscientious way I have no doubt that the learning curve would be flattened to a great extent and they would rapidly gain proficiency in programming.

Having prepared the ground thoroughly, BS raises the level of activity by introducing programming techniques which produce graphical output, and devotes 160 pages in five chapters to it. An independently produced lightweight graphical user interface package called FLTK has to be downloaded and installed for this purpose (its free of charge). FLTK was chosen partly because it is a cross-platform system (cross platform functionality being one of BS's hobby horses, although one which is justified). I found this part of the book a bit tedious, mainly because I am not greatly interested in graphics at present and partly because I did not have the time to play with the system sufficiently.

Two thirds of the way through the book is a refreshing and fascinating chapter dealing with the history of programming and some of the personalities involved; something I had not thought of investigating in any detail before. Colour photographs are another feature of this book which adds to its appeal.

An important theme of the book is the idea that its all too easy to make mistakes when programming, but there are ways to mitigate this. BS owns up and highlights many mistakes he made (some of them deliberate, for pedagogical reasons) when writing programs for the book. I find that both endearing and encouraging. Major sections deal with debugging and system testing, including the recording of run-time.

The last chapter is an introduction to the C programming language. I was very pleased to see that since you cannot go very far in the world of C++ without tripping over branches of C code, and it helps a lot if you can understand it. There are five appendices which provide useful reference material and some extra ideas for anyone who has stayed the course.

The book is supported by some excellent web pages with supporting material including an errata list and well designed tutorial materials for teachers.

I found this book generally very revealing and rate it not only excellent, but inspiring. It provides the means to become a good programmer if you are prepared to do the work, and the encouragement to do so.
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