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on 29 December 2005
Many years ago when I was a student we were taught database theory. Although Ted Codd's paper "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks" had been published fifteen years earlier, relational databases hadn't yet become the dominant species and we were taught a number of alternatives (does anyone else remember Codasyl?) systems - relational databases and SQL were just the newest option.
Of course, once I left college and started working for a living, it wasn't long before relational databases were the only game in town. And over the years I've forgotten most of the non-relational theory that I once knew. Or, at least, that's what I thought. Reading this book, I realise that I had forgotten most of the relational theory too.
The relational model is what underpins most of the databases that we use in our day-to-day work. But in many ways, the databases that we use today have diverged greatly from Codd's original ideas. Many of the features of todays databases would have no place in a purely relational database.
And that is what Chris Date's latest book is all about. He reminds us of what a really relational database would look like and points out where current implementations fall short. In particular, it's clear that Date blames the ubiquity of SQL for most of these problems. SQL, he reminds us, started out as an attempt to put a user-friendly(!) query language on top of the relational model. When that didn't really work out, instead of going back to square one and trying to implement a better relational query language the database vendors instead stuck with SQL and ignored the bits of the relational model which it couldn't support. For most of the examples in the book, Date gives an SQL query alongside the same query rewritten in "Tutorial D" a relational query language of his own creation.
The book does contain a useful introduction to the relational model, but I have to say that in doing so it uses some mathematics that many potential readers might find a bit galling. Personally, I'd be very happy if more database practioners understood the underlying maths to the level required to read this book as that would hopefully mean an increase in the average quality of the database designs that I come across.
Date is at his most interesting when he is talking about the advantages that a "proper" relational database implementation would bring us. As he says in a recent interview:
"As far as I'm concerned, an object/relational system done right would simply be a relational system done right, nothing more and nothing less."
There are some exciting possibilities in a truely relational database, but it would mean the industry admitting that its current implementations are flawed. And I don't see that happening.
If you work with databases and you have any interest in the mathematical theories behind how your database works, then I recommend you read this book. You'll come out with a deeper understanding of your current database system. But, perhaps more importantly, you'll also have a slight sense of disappointment when you realise how good your database could be.
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on 1 January 2011
I have just read Chris Date's book cover-to-cover.

It's foreword and back cover are accurate: In essence promising to provide an in-depth view of what the Relational Vision is, how it is intended to be used, where SQL meets this relational vision, where it falls short and discusses work arounds where they are available.

To write such a book C.J. DATE has clearly mastered not only first-order logic and the relational model, but also SQL to a standard (no pun intended) where he is justifyably able to act as an authority on it.

Consequently I find his comments unbiased, logically correct and of great interest. Of course to acknowledge yet challenge SQL (the world's dominant database language) he is necessarily opinionated, but I get the impression he would agree with the foreword when it says 'You may not agree with everything Chris says, and you don't need to, but you do need to understand it'.

As a result I want to back the comment of another reviewer that Chris's style 'does not basically serve as propaganda on why he is great and all other commentators are wrong', but simply 'that commentators who don't follow the relational model are HIGHLY flawed.'

On a separate note, I did find a background in formal and pure mathematics helpful in getting the most out of this book, but agree such a background isn't a necessity - This is the most concise book I have seen that gets at the heart of the relational model and where SQL differs from it. With thought the information in its 200 pages will allow you to become a master of SQL on your chosen DBMS more efficiently (my goal in reading the book, at least for now) and ensure you appreciate where SQL falls genuinely short of the relational vision and we might ultimately be better starting again.

Additionally there is a very useful appendix with references to further material for those wishing to become true experts in database theory.
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on 15 September 2009
I am a CEO of a small (45 person) Software VAR / ISV company (M4 Systems) - I have read many books on databases and SQL, this is by far the best. In my 26 years of business experience I have been surprised to find that - in the general workplace (including IT) logic and common sense is in remarkably short supply - therefore I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in business systems to support effectiveness and efficiency. Gary Clarke P.S. This book is much easier reading that his other book on Logic and Databases.
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on 8 October 2007
Chris Date has written the only book you need to really understand how databases SHOULD be done building on Ted Codd's relational model. This book will change your perception of all databases and DBMSs especially on the subject of what a relation actually is. Personally I find Date's style of writing very much like the lectures I take (from Hugh Darwen actually so that probably explains it) and contrary to another poster's belief does not basically serve as propeganda on why he is great and all other comentators are wrong but that commentators who don't follow Codd's relational model are HIGHLY flawed.
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on 20 August 2014
As C.J. Date says in the book, the intended audience of this book are experienced practitioners. Its purpose is not to teach SQL (although you will learn a lot about its weaknesses and why it fails to implement the Relational Model), but rather to teach relational theory and the Relational Model. The topic is very abstract theory with deep and strong mathematical roots - but a rock solid Model with powerful possibilities if it were to be implemented. SQL, on the other hand - although being a useful and powerful tool in today's technological toolkit, at best can be described as a very poor and flawed implementation of a faint shadow of the Relational Model. Although i believe that Mr. Date has done a very good job of explaining a very abstract and complicated topic, i must admit that it has been a very difficult read for me and that i will probably have to read it a number of times before i will be able to grasp all that he writes about. I hope that this is because i am NOT an experienced practitioner. But even though there is far too much that i was not able to grasp after my first reading i do not regret for one second buying this book and highly recommend it to anyone truly interested in understanding the theory that database design is based on.
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on 15 September 2005
This book is the second I read on E-R theory and SQL language.
I enjoy reading this book because of:
+ It is very clean and compact. You can understand all, even if you haven't a mathematical background
+ Some of the exposed ideas are new and can change the way you look at the E-R model and theory.
+ Date is a well-known author in this field, so you can trust a lot what he says
Look also at my review on
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on 27 May 2016
I bought the book due to C.J.Date's well known name in the 'relational world' and because I wanted to remind myself of the theory behind the relational databases. However, I stopped reading after 50 pages because of too many redundancies and unnecessary sentences (as if someone were giving a lecture).
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on 16 February 2013
I hoped this book would give me solid theory to help me design better databases. It really doesn't, but it explains the relational model greatly, and will give you insight on all areas of database development.
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on 2 July 2014
Essential DBA reading.
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on 6 June 2006
The author C J Date may know all sorts about databases but he can't write. The prose is so leaden and full of superfluous comments that I gave up. He includes endless bizarre signposts to his intentions, along the lines of "At this point in the chapter, I would like to pause and make a point on a related topic". Just make the point! More annoyingly, he also uses this book to demonstrate demonstrate his main theme of why he is great and all other database commentators are useless, which leads to yet more unnecessary asides.

There are nuggets of useful information in here, but a decent editor could reduce this book to a 25 page pamphlet without losing anything much.

If I wasn't so wearied by the effort of wading through the first few chapters I'd send the book back.
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