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Customer Review

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you want a vaguely deep understanding of JavaScript or if you've programmed before then this book is unlikely to satisfy you, 1 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: Head First HTML5 Programming: Building Web Apps with JavaScript (Paperback)
This book did succeed in explaining the basics of HTML5 and JavaScript to me but it was a mixed experience. Before you buy this book, take a good long look at sample content available via Amazon's "look inside" feature. Then imagine hundreds of pages of the same style and ask yourself: "is this really for me?".

These "brain friendly" books have a commendable ambition: to create a learning experience based on modern cognitive neuroscience. I applaud anyone who genuinely tries to take an evidence-based approach to teaching. However, this book appears to be based on a rather shallow view of cognitive neuroscience. There are several specific problems I have with the style:

Firstly, for me the book goes way too slowly. I'm simply not in the book's target audience and I should not have bought this book. Let me briefly explain my background: I'm comfortable with C++, Java, object orientation etc but I hadn't done much webby stuff so I needed a book to quickly get me up to speed on HTML5 and JavaScript for a specific project. I didn't do much research on the book before I bought it. I saw that it had positive reviews and I figured that a book called "head first..." would be fairly concise and fast-moving. But no. If you know basic programming then this book may not be for you. For example, the book introduces the distinction between local and global variables on page 123, whilst most programming books deal with this topic pretty early on (although, to be fair, the book covers not just JavaScript but also introduces HTML5 and the DOM in the preceding pages).

I gave up on this book around page 125. I found that I was spending considerable effort trying to sift through the noise to find the tiny little tit-bits of information sparsely scattered through the pages. It felt like the learning equivalent of trying to drive a car with the hand-break on. (After giving up on this "Head first" book I bought JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford which was a huge breath of fresh air after fighting my way through this "Head first..." book. Crockford's book is enjoyable because the content is intelligent and lucid hence he doesn't need any "brain friendly" gimmicks.)

Secondly, I like writing styles where I feel the author is being honest and candid with me and I develop a warmth and respect for the writer. But when reading this "Head First..." book, it felt to me that I was consuming a soulless product designed through tick-boxes, conference calls and a quick skim read through a dodgy "self help" book on learning. In my view, anyone who seriously wants to write a good "teaching" book needs to allow the learner to get to know the author a little. All too often, reading this book feels like watching a badly acted children's TV program. All the "personality" in the book is over-acted and shallow.

Thirdly, I suspect this "brain friendly" brand is 90% marketing and 10% genuine research. I very much doubt that the authors or editors have studied the cognitive neuroscience literature very rigorously. For example, they talk several times about "activating both sides of the brain". The idea that one side of the brain is for mathsy stuff and the other is for artsy stuff is a daft myth (google "left brain / right brain myth"). As another example: they state that human brains are tuned for looking at faces (which is true), which they interpret as meaning that it's a good idea to put cringe-worthy stock photos of people on almost every page. Yes, it's nice to see a human face every now and then, but not *so* often. It's just distracting!

On the plus side, I love the extensive use of diagrams and the conversational style makes for a very readable book. The use of diagrams, "hand-written" annotations and conversational style does - in some sections - succeed in quickly and efficiently transferring concepts from the page into your brain.

In summary: yes, this book will teach you the basics of HTML5 and JavaScript; and in places does so in a remarkably effective fashion. But if you know basic programming (for example: if you know what a function is) then you're likely to feel rather patronised book, and the style will certainly not be to every one's taste. I do feel a little uncomfortable giving this book such a low mark because I'm clearly not in the target audience for this book, and I gave up on the book before finishing it. But I felt compelled to write this review because, when I was deciding whether or not to buy this book, it was not at all clear that this book is not suitable for some folks. Specifically: if you have a background in computer science and/or if you get a geeky thrill from learning a new programming language then this book is unlikely to satisfy you.
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