01 January 2011

Book Review: Head First SQL

   I love the Head First O’Reilly book series which excepting the book on SQL, have acquired over its short existence several other titles like the ones on Data Analysis, Statistics and Excel, topics strongly correlated with the thematic of the current blog, but also related tangential topics like Project Management, Design Patterns, Object-Oriented Analysis and Design, Software Development, Web Design, Programming, PHP & MySQL, HTML with CSS & XHTML, C#, Java, AJAX, JavaScript, Pyhton, Servlets and JSP, EJB or Rails. (The book series contains more titles which seems to be available also at Head First Labs together with other supporting information.) What I like about this book series is that approaches the themes from a basic level, using a rich set of “brain-friendly” visual representations, conversational and personalized style, challenging food for thought, plus some advices on how to use book’s format, facts that allow the reader to make most of the learning process. In fact the books are approachable for any newbies in IT branch, so I recommend the whole set of books to beginners as well to experienced programmers, considering the fact that everybody has something to learn, at least when considering the presentational format of the book.

   Coming back to the current title, Head First SQL, it covers almost everything somebody has to know about database design, DML and DDL statements, database objects and security in a nutshell. It focuses only on the SQL Standard (I wish I know which one as there are several versions/revisions, see SQL 1999), so it could be used for all type of RDBMS that implements the standard, even if the book is built around MySQL. A consequence of this aspect is that any vendor specific flavors won’t be found in here, so the book should be used in combination with the documentation or the books that target the vendor-specific functionality. There are also several topics not covered but mentioned roughly: reserved words and special characters, temporary tables, data conversion, some numeric functions and operators, indexes, etc.

     I have to remark that some of the definitions are somehow ambiguous, and I feel that in some cases additional specifications/clarifications are necessary. Some examples in this direction could be considered the very first important definitions, the ones of the database seen as “a container that holds tables and SQL structures related to those tables”, the one of column seen as piece of data stored by a table, or of a row seen as a single set of columns that describe attributes of a single thing. The first definition is quite acceptable if it’s ignored the existence of non-relational databases (it’s also true that the book targets RDBMS even if not evident), however the other two definitions are too vague, at least from my point of view. It’s also true that more rigor and detail would involve the introduction of other concepts (e.g. entity, matrix, etc.), requiring more space and maybe complicate the topics. The reader could intuit from explanatory text and examples what’s all about, however expecting the reader to bridge such gaps should be avoided especially when we consider the intrinsic nature of this book in particular, and IT books in general. Anyway, this shouldn’t stop you discover and enjoy the book!

Notes:

1. As I learned on the hard way, not all book formats and writing styles are matching everybody’s taste and expectations. The simplistic and rich visually format of the book could annoy as well, so might be a good idea to browse first the book on Scribd before buying it.

2. The source code is available here.

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