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3.7 out of 5 stars19
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on 28 March 2013
Let me begin this review with a plea to all intending writers of books about the very excellent Python programming language; please stick the spam where the sun don't shine. And the parrots too. I loved the Monty Python series but after a couple of hundred pages these 'witty' references don't seem funny any more.
My headline for this review is very harsh but I am going to try to justify it in view of the very contrasting reviews this book has had. I am not a complete beginner but I am not a pro either, just a hobby programmer.
I bought this book under the influence of the many positive reviews and as I started to read it I was favourable impressed; it was interesting and clearly written. After a couple of evenings, however, I began to feel tired and puzzled; tired after trying to absorb several chapters of information and puzzled because I was no nearer to writing Python code than when I first opened the book. Eventually I realised what the problem was. The book explains clearly how things work but you have to be comfortable with the technical vocabulary used. There are very few example of how to do useful things with Python and this is a serious fault in the book. Instead of example programs there are little experiments on the command line to illustrate how things work. The first example program appears on page 393. Yes, that's page three hundred and ninety three, over a third of the way into the book!
The author's experience as a teacher shows itself in good ways and in bad ways. First, his explanations are usually clear and easy to follow but I feel that his approach and his choice of vocabulary are too technical for the beginning programmer. Second, he tries to reinforce and emphasize certain subjects by use of the standard pedagogical technique of repetition. This is fine in a class room situation. In a book, though, it is not required. It makes this big book even bigger with no benefit to the reader. For example, polymorphism and operator overloading are discussed briefly on page 84 in the context of strings and again on page 114 in the chapter about numbers, there are a couple more pages in the chapter on functions and several mentions in the chapters about object oriented programming. This could be justified if polymorphism were actually used, with examples, in these early mentions but it is not. These early mentions of polymorphism do not help the me use strings or numerical types, and they do not help with understanding the example programs (because there aren't any). In fact, they just get in the way. It seems the author feels (rightly) that they are important and so (wrongly, in my view) brings them up at every opportunity.
The few code samples are often hard to follow because common computer terms, such as value and data, are used as variable names. For example, on page 629, the class, FirstClass has the line, self.data = value. With a more realistic context, such as a CD collection or an employee class, it would be easier to distinguish the language constructs from the data that the code is working on and so the code would be easier to understand. As it is, even these trivial examples make the function of the code harder to discern.
Here are a couple of cases where I feel the approach is wrong and does not consider the needs of the learner. First, while trying to understand how to use the self argument I consulted pages 619-620, 640, and 686-687, scattered over 4 chapters. I found no clear explanation of how to use it but I found this on page 620: "Because classes are factories for multiple instances, their methods usually go through this automatically passed-in self argument whenever they need to fetch or set attributes of the particular instance being processed by a method call." Second, on the subject of lambda functions, on page 476 the explanation begins, "Besides the def statement, Python also provides an expression form that generates function objects. Because of its similarity to a tool in the Lisp language, it's called lambda. Like def, this expression creates a function to be called later, but it returns the function instead of assigning it to a name." These two samples are clearly written but, in my opinion, if you can understand them then you probably do not need this book. Faced with such prose, the beginner's only hope is the example code but often there isn't any.
This approach, of writing about how Python works, makes the book far longer than it needs to be. There are four chapters on functions! And the first three of them are on the basics. I have read books that cover this in one chapter including example code. They can do this because they tell you how to use functions rather than the technical details about how they work. For example, If you are coming to Python from C, like I did, then you may not realize that you have to define your functions in your code before you call them. This point is not stated! Instead there is a small section called "def is executable code" which might convey this point to an experienced programmer but which beginners will step over as they hunt for information about how to actually use functions.
The book contains a great deal of information and it might have done duty as a reference book if it had a good index. Unfortunately it has a bad index which is incomplete, inaccurate, and inconsistent. Some words which I tried without success to look up are, strip() method, argv, sys.argv, != operator, equality, NOT, arithmetic, OR, NOT, logical operators, ord. Examples of terms which are in the index but which have inaccurate or missing page references include the following. "self argument" is missing some important references on pages 640 and 619 - 620 while the single reference given, 687, is out by one page. "end of line characters 923" is out by one page and is missing pages 234-235. "file iterators 354" gives only the start page of the discussion and is missing a reference on page 235. Strangely, page 235 does appear as a subheading under "files" while page 354 does not.
There are no cross-references and in a book of this complexity there really should be. For example, the heading "anonymous functions" should have a "see also lambda expressions".
The index uses subheadings and sub-subheadings but there are no continuation headings with the result that when you scan from one column to the next it is difficult to know which level of the hierarchy you are in.
There are some rather weird headings that nobody would think of looking up. Sometimes they turn out to be section headings. Now it is quite reasonable to look at section headings for possible index terms but they are not always suitable as they stand because authors sometimes indulge in a little whimsy when choosing headings. For example under "arguments" I found "min wakeup call 455". This gives no clue as to the content to be found at page 455 so it should not be used in the index. A more descriptive heading should have been chosen instead.
Apart from the errors and omissions the index is badly in need of editing to make it consistent and coherent. The heading "comparison methods 730" is immediately followed by "comparison operators 730" while some pages on comparison operators (118-119 and 246-248) are not mentioned at all. Information about strings appears under "string exceptions", "string methods", "string formatting", "string formatting method calls" (yes, it's the next main heading), "string object type", "string operations" and finally "strings", the latter having a long column of subheadings which include some, but not all, of the pages listed under the earlier headings. Now it's a basic principle of indexing that if you find a word in the index then all the relevant and useful page references should be listed under that word. So under the heading "strings" should be everything about strings. But there is too much; that's why these other headings are used. So what lies under "strings"? Most of it belongs under a heading such as "string encoding" . A little editing would tidy this up and remove the rather silly "non-ASCII text, coding 907" followed immediately by "non-ASCII text, encoding and decoding 907", not to mention the subheading, "string methods 84", one page, while there are a dozen subheadings about string methods further back!
I could carry on ripping apart almost every part of the index but you are probably fed up with this by now. Why make such a fuss about the index? If you had tried to use this one you would think that indexes are rather useless and not worth the bother. But they are not supposed to be. A good index would direct you at once to the information on whatever topic you are looking for; not to every single mention as the search function on a PDF or e-reader does but just to the useful ones. This is a big, complex book with lots of intricate technical details so indexing it would be a considerable challenge requiring time and expertise. It would have rescued some value from the book.
You won't learn to program in Python from this book for the simple reason that the it does not try to teach it. It contains a huge amount of technical information about how Python works but not enough about how to actually use it. The author can write clearly and well in a way that makes it interesting but serious thought needs to be given to the organization of this large book and to targeting it to its intended audience. The back cover makes clear that it is an introductory level text which requires no previous experience. This is simply not true and that is why I feel justified in describing it as the worst language tutorial book I have ever tried to use. Even for the experienced programmer its usefulness is severely dented by the ragged organization and by the terrible index which leaves a considerable part of the book's content inaccessible.
On a wider issue, I have bought 3 introductory books on Python from different publishers and none of them were good. This makes me wonder if it is wise to buy such books any more especially when so much information is available on the internet. Publishers really need to consider how they can add value to content instead of just dumping it between two covers and putting it on sale. For me that means clear, concise and accurate explanations, helpful organization of the text, realistic example code, and a good index. Otherwise I don't see the point of buying books any more.
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on 21 April 2012
I have just completed reading the first 900 pages of this 1200 page book, which comprises a course covering all the basics of the Python programming language. (The remaining 300 pages covers numerous advanced topics and the appendices). At the end of these 900 pages the author states the following :-

'At this point, you've been exposed to the full subset of Python that most programmers use. In fact, if you have read this far, you should feel free to consider yourself an official Python programmer. Be sure to pick up a t-shirt the next time you're online.'

And I can certainly say that I feel I have just had a first class education in Python from this book. The author clearly knows his subject inside out, and he gives detailed explanations backed by concise code examples throughout, and often reiterates important points, making learning much faster.

I already have a knowledge of C++, PHP, Perl, and JavaScript, so I cannot really speak for the absolute beginner coming to this book with no prior programming experience. But for someone like me with programming experience, but no knowledge of Python, the book is excellent.

Some reviews of this book have been quite harsh, in particular complaining that it is verbose and wordy. There is no doubt the writing style is somewhat wordy, but on the other hand the author doesn't miss important details. I think the latter is more important, particularly in a technical book. The worst technical books are those which leave the reader with too many unanswered questions in their heads.

The first 200 pages or so probably seem the most wordy, and after that you get more into the core aspects of the language. I think the problem might be the author is targeting both experienced programmers and complete newcomers alike. For the latter, basic concepts need to be explained, but the former will find this unnecessary.

If there was one area of the book where more explanation could have been provided I would say it was in relation to function closures. This can be a tricky concept. It is heavily used in JavaScript, so I already had a handle on it, but even then it can easily trip you up.

Throughout, the author describes both versions 2.6 and 3.0 of Python, though 3.0 is emphasised. Version 2.6 will still be widely used for many years to come, but for completely new projects 3.0+ will most likely be used.

This book is not perfect, but I am giving it 5 stars as I feel it has taught me adequetely all the core areas of the Python language.

Re the wordiness remember any author's time is limited, as illustrated in the following quote -
"I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one."
¯ Blaise Pascal
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on 24 April 2012
I had around a years experience in C++ before coming to use this book. I kept in mind what me as a beginner would have been thinking whilst reading through the first few technical chapters of the book, and I suspect that, as other people have said, this is not appropriate if you have never programmed before.

However, having some coding experience already I would say I got the most out of this book. Early on it elucidates the strengths and weaknesses of Python and helps the reader to understand the fundamental differences of Python to other languages like C & C++. After this teh author spends a large amount of time talking about Pythons Fundamental types. This was my only gripe with the book. Around 150-200 pages are devoted to showcasing Pythons Built ins, methods and attributes, which to me seems a bit a waste of time as the help function and the dir() function can give so much help in this respects.

However, this is really a minor gripe and depends on how confident you feel. The book contains a very good chapter of dynamic typing, and from then on highlights key concepts very well with ample pieces of code to demonstrate the points.

I have to recommend Python anyhow for a beginner language due to the phenomenal amount of help available online and also the ease of use of IDLE, Pythonds dynamic GUI. This makes learnign quicker and more interactive.
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on 11 July 2012
I bought the book because I wanted a good reference book, something that aimed for being complete. I got what I wanted.

Some people claim it's a too heavy book to read. Sure, with its 1150+ pages it's not something you get through in a day or two, but I find it easy enough to read. But I have a solid programming background since before so I suppose that's why.

The book also makes a lot of comparisons between Python 2.x and 3.x, even if you don't realize that by overlooking the Table of Contents. I like that a lot.
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on 23 February 2012
I have experience with programming and wanted to learn what Python is, what is special about it, and how to write programs in it, without having to read a 1000-page book. This book does this admirably - you can read and also scan the entire book quickly and learn all the essentials. Everything is said once and where it belongs, clearly and concisely. If you have forgotten something (say, the map operation applied to lists), you can find it quickly again. This is a well-crafted book on programming and makes a convincing case for learning and using the language. It helps that the language is well designed.
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on 10 June 2013
Without doubt the author knows the material but quite who this book is for I do not know. On the plus side there is plenty of information for those that want to explain all the various detailed aspects of Python. If you want to know how Python really works and be able to write about Python rather than program it then maybe buy this book. A better name would be 'Learning ABOUT Python'. The style it is written in certainly requires someone with previous programming knowledge.

Name dropping starts in chapter 1 assuming the reader needs to be convinced how good Python is. If we have spent this sort of money on a book about Python then I want to learn it and not be given a sales brochure.

The further I get into that book the greater the feeling becomes that if you ripped all the pages out and shuffled them you probably would have edited it just as well as the real thing. Although there are chapter headings they switch back and forth in topic very rapidly and go from basic to complex and back again. If this technique is on purpose it does not work for me. The paragraphs let alone the chapters do not seem to build on each other; you get no sense of development through the first four chapters.

As a brief illustration of the level and frustration you will meet; early on in chapter 4 we are splitting strings, so should please me as this is what I wanted to learn and with my chosen preferred way with what other reviewers call 'small code fragments'. However I was not. These particular code samples seem to just be thrown in and are only very abstract examples. The lines of code grouped together do nothing. The examples have no explanation, do not work without further code, and within the page move on without going anywhere. The fragment does nothing to help the understanding of the previous or following pages; they are just there, so taught me nothing. To understand them I had to query the python website to attempt to understand and use the method.

If this lack of ability to teach, learning TO PROGRAM Python, is not enough then by chapter 4 you will be sick of the Monty Python references - all I am waiting for is the ministry of silly walks and I will have a full set, but at this point I moved on from the book seeing it as a bad investment.

If you are starting out then Python Programming for the absolute beginner by Michael Dawson is far better. For the next book I am still looking.
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on 27 April 2013
OK, that's an obvious title, but given the subject matter can you blame me?

I've programmed using many languages over the years, from Pascal to BASIC (various dialects) to C (again, more than one dialect) and various shell scripts though in recent years my programming output has dropped to the occasional bit of korn shell and a little bit of COBOL. So this is a toe in the water of something that's a little more recent.

My first encounter with Python goes back to the days when I discovered that BitTorrent, the popular peer to peer sharing system, was a Python program but that my own main desktop at the time, namely Miyuki, my Acorn Risc PC, didn't appear to be running a version despite the fact that RISC OS, even back then, had Python capability. At the time, however, I didn't really have much time to muck around with it, especially as RISC OS back then wasn't exactly up to speed with the various libraries needed to get something like BitTorrent going, though I believe that has changed on more recent systems.

So what is Python? Well, the opening chapter goes into some detail about what it is. To put it as concisely as I can, it is an interpreted computer programming language, something along the lines of what BASIC used to be but a lot more powerful and elegant than the old FORTRAN spinoff. Because it is interpreted, it can be run immediately though it can suffer with speed issues as the computer has to run the code through the interpreter to make sense of it, but what you have is something that is more readable on the human side than some compiled programs like the aforementioned C or COBOL.

I've only just started on this book so I can only give you a rough idea about it. This book is about teaching you how to construct programs. It's a big book (about 1200 pages) but it doesn't really get into the actual uses of Python. That's covered by the followup book "Programming Python" though if you are an old programming hand, chances are that you will have your own ideas about that!
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on 4 January 2012
I'm an amateur programmer and all I can say is that this book is very-very good.
No problems in executing any of the code so far (that's a usual problem I had with books in other languages in the past) and I get to understand everything, as it is written in an understandable way.
I would definitely suggest it to any amateur programmer.
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on 23 July 2011
I've only just begun reading through this book. I've read through the first 150 pages. There's quite a lot of waffle to begin with. But, it's worth wading through it to get you started and to get an overview of what's to come in the rest of the book. I've been a C programmer for over ten years. So, I'm not expecting too much trouble learning the basics of this language. I will have to adopt a new way of thinking though, which will take some time.

I would say this book may be a bit lacking for a complete beginner who is wanting to learn to program for the first time. Like I said above, there is a lot to read through before the book really gets you started coding. I think the author attempts to be complete in his descriptions. But, this is too much information for a novice to take in. Also, he uses terminology that a novice may not understand. A novice who is determined enough will be able to get through this and if they persist I'm sure it will come together for them.

In summary, after reading the first few chapters I have whet my appetite and am looking forward to working through the rest of the book. Complete beginners to programming may struggle with it a bit.
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on 5 May 2013
excellent purchase and excellent price.I purchased it at the same time as Programming Python. I feel you need both books for cross reference purposes.
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