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Book Review: Head First Javascript by Michael Morrison

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I've read lots of technical manuals in my time. In fact, I've learned just about every programming language I know from a manual, and I know quite a few. Since I haven't used Javascript in a long time, I thought I'd give Head First Javascript a try. I'm glad I did.

I'm not a huge fan of technical books that treat the reader like an idiot. Books aimed at beginners are a good thing, but not if they talk down to the reader or explain the same thing dozens of times when twice would have been sufficient for even the most confused beginner. O'Reilly books tend not to be that way, which is why I almost always go with an O'Reilly manual over any other publisher.

I was skeptical when I opened this book and leafed through it. There are a lot of pictures and what appeared to be way too much whitespace for a technical manual. I thought that I was doomed to a condescending read. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. The book was not only readable, it was a joy to read. I found myself picking it up at night rather than the novel I had picked up the day before. It is a great manual.

Note though, that Head First is not a reference manual. This is most definitely a tutorial. The book guides a beginner through the steps necessary to produce active content on a web page. Author Michael Morrison assumes that the reader has some knowledge of HTML and CSS, and I suspect that most readers would be totally lost without that prior knowledge. You don't need to be an expert, however. Some basic knowledge of HTML and CSS is enough.

Despite the fact that I was looking for more of a refresher course on material I already knew, I found myself reading this book to the end. At times it is funny, and it is always informative, and while it does repeat material several times, each repeat is presented in a different manner. It's obvious that Head First is aimed at different learning styles, and each time it repeats material, it is to present it to a different type of learner, and so it is presented differently. I really like the way Morrison moves through the material. There's a wonderful chapter on debugging (called "KIll Bugs Dead"), and a brief but informative introduction to AJAX.

The layout of this book absolutely blew me away. The whitespace and pictures that I had originally been skeptical about really made a huge difference in the readability of Morrison's work. Many technical manuals are densely packed with a lot of information, generally too much for beginners. This book is very beginner friendly. I'd even recommend this book to my techie friends who want to learn Javascript.

The only fault I could find in this manual was that it was not as densely packed with information as I'm used to in a technical book. When I finished, I felt like I was missing some things. But this is a minor complaint, and I doubt anyone who didn't already know Javascript would even notice. The missing material, by the way, was all optional material that I've rarely, if ever, used in an actual program.

If you are new to Javascript and want a gentle introduction to the language, I couldn't recommend this book more highly. If you need a Javascript reference manual, however, then this is not the book for you. Head First Javascript is a marvelous introduction to programming in Javascript for anyone who wants to learn the language.

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