Learn Python the Hard Way: A Very Simple Introduction to the Terrifyingly Beautiful World of Computers and Code (Zed Shaw's Hard Way) Paperback – 1 Oct 2013
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About the Author
Zed A. Shaw is the author of the popular online books Learn Python the Hard Way, Learn Ruby the Hard Way, and Learn C the Hard Way. He is also the creator of several open source software projects like Mongrel, Lamson, Mongrel2, and has been programming and writing for nearly 20 years.
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On the one hand, the author's insistence for you to take your time, complete every drill, and strictly avoid copy/paste for each exercise really does pay off. If the lesson on practice and persistence is the only thing I take from this book, then it was worth the read.
Unfortunately it almost IS the only thing I take from this book.
The biggest obstacle to learning Python with this book won't be the subject matter, but the author. Before we even begin, in the preface, he says "read everything as if I’m smiling and I have a mischievous little twinkle in my eye". The problem is, at no stage did I believe Zed A. Shaw was capable of some mischievous and harmless banter. He comes across as insulting, loud, obnoxious and arrogant. I wouldn't be surprised if the editor who read this before publication insisted that this preface line be included, in an attempt to soften the aggressive nature of the author's delivery.
I'm currently studying for a CCNA; the official Cisco course-ware, in all it's dry, boring, matter-of-fact delivery, is far warmer and more endearing than this guy.
As the book progresses, he also increases his reliance on "Google it". I began getting very frustrated by Exercise 39, when he threw in a 'if not/get' line of code that he made absolutely no reference to in the chapter. This exercise is probably one of the longest pieces of code up until that point, and bizarrely has one of the briefest explanations. You would almost think the author doesn't really know what he's talking about himself. As a matter of fact, he says as much after telling you to Google object-orientated programming: "Don’t worry if it makes absolutely no sense to you. Half of that stuff makes no sense to me either".
From that point onward it's downhill. I constantly had to Google pieces I didn't understand, and would find explanations for them online in MUCH easier, simpler and less derogatory terms.
I still think this book is worth a read, but be prepared to notice the author more than the subject matter.
Zed often chats about why he's teaching you the way he is but there is a mature technique "under-the-hood" and his conversational, rebellious and amusing style belie the effective nature of the training method. His critics hate him because he takes a stand, often very vocally, on divisive issues. Whilst I found the sections on Object Oriented Programming mildly unhelpful initially (I don't usually like being told what to think about something before I try it) I have since found that it is indeed somewhat over-used, and as he puts it "just plain weird".
Remember, he's just got one opinion amongst many, many opinions out there. You don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water, to do so would be to be to miss a superbly enjoyable program for learning.
He's a good teacher, and entertaining too, and his more opinionated moments leave much space for your own research, What's not to like?
Oh, and I can now program in Python after just a couple of short months!
First, the subject matter. Zed A Shaw is clearly a man who believes in starting from the bottom, and working slowly up one step at a time, and I for one think that is the most effective way to learn. You start by printing "Hello, World!" (of course) and then very slowly, very gradually, creep forward, one step at a time.
In my experience, this is not a reference guide, or a dip-in-and-out guide. This is a formulaic, by the numbers program designed to replace a classroom environment. You do exercise 1, then 2, then 3. Naturally you will probably find that you start to experiment slightly as you progress, but generally Zed expects you to follow the lessons as outlined.
I can see how some might find the author a bit patronising - he writes as though he knows everything and you know nothing. But... he's an experienced programmer, and you're learning from scratch, so this is in fact the case.
In short, listen to him, read the book, follow the exercises and in just a few days you'll know everything you need to know. Then all you need is a lifetime of experience.
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