The idea of this book is that thirty software developers and/or researchers (respectable ones, no doubt there), had to find the most beautiful piece of code and present its study. Each of them then writes a chapter and there you have it - a volume of "beautiful code" ! Simple as that.
If there was somebody to fully support the idea of such book, it would be me - I believe that the software industry already spent too much time and effort neglecting the art-and-craft in programming, pretending that it all can be reduced to hard math. Didn't work so far, did it ? Then I very welcome books like this one. But not exactly the one.
Let me put it this way - I couldn't say anything good about this book except that I adore the concept and found may be ten of thirty three chapters interesting (not necessarily beautiful). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say, but this lame excuse is the last good thing I could say for this book.
It was supposed to be pedagogical. Did not happen. Rather than making it timeless reference for the readers, the book made a tribune for the authors to talk about, uhm, just about anything. We know how programmers love to talk about what they do, and it's ok. But we also know that they often mumble instead of talking and it's very difficult for us to understand one another, no matter friendly or hostile. This is not to mention that there are no commonality in topics or style or language (programming or English) or anything. The editor had simply glued it together.
Not so bad you say, a good assortment is fine you say ? Let me tell you more, and it's all downhill.
It's as though you expected an album of paintings but instead got a book of random excerpts from chemical specifications for producing paints.
Exemplary conventional antimicrobial, antimildew, or antialgae agent includes 3-iodo-2-propynyl butylcarbamate, diiodomethyl-p-tolylsulfone, 1,2-benzoisothiazolin-3-one, 2-methylthio-4-tert-butylamino-6-cyclopropylamino-s-triazine, 2-(4-thiocyanomethylthio) benzothiazole and the mixtures thereof.
See how beautiful it is that can be painted with that ?
If you ask me, a book like this ought to have structure. Remember the classic one by Gamma et al - they also presented abstract things from different areas or levels, but they kept the information stylistically uniform and structured against a clear taxonomy. Not the case here.
And I just loved the one that has NASA in it's title. There - "A Highly Reliable Enterprise System For NASA's Mars Rover Mission". Wow ! How promising ! Want to know what it says ? It says - "In NASA they love their software reliable, even a web-based file server, and so we present you a web-based file server built with JavaBeans in three-tier architecture". Ahem, Mars Rover anyone ?
Don't get me wrong, some of the chapters are reasonably interesting. Interesting ! Not beautiful !
With a little exception, the authors don't even mention the word "beautiful" in their texts. They allure with "There, we have this system, it works like this..." . What exactly the author finds beatiful about it and why - remains secret.
The most impressive standout was the chapter written by Yukihiro Matsumoto, the creator of Ruby. Three pages in which he simply speaks about what he believes a beautiful code is. He explains to you his understanding of a beautiful code. This is what the book is all about !
Instead, many chapters just demonstrate a few pages (!) of code and conclude - it is beautiful, see !
Many times I wasn't unable to grasp the problem - what was it that required that so called beauty to emerge ? I couldn't see the whole picture, but the authors sort of presume I do and so my possible appreciation of beauty requires deep understanding. What if I show you a magnified fragment of Mona Lisa's background, some 3x3 blackish pixels ? No doubt, Leonardo had to paint them too. But what was that beauty again ?
Only a few authors were wise enough to use a pseudocode. Something that anyone can read, no matter from which camp. Otherwise it's just weird when the authors present their beatiful code in Ruby or Perl or LISP. Look, I didn't touch Ruby yet, I hate Perl and I can't imagine using LISP in practice. Nevertheless the authors repeatedly say something like "It's easy, I'll show you, this bracket does this and that character does something else. Now you see how beautiful it is ?". They literally show you a piece of poetry in foreign language and ask you to appreciate it.
A classical example of awful poetry in Russian is (transliterated)
Ya poet, zovus' Neznajka,
ot menya vam balalajka.
Can you tell whether it's good or bad and why ? What if I told you it's beatiful ? Would you believe ? Does it appeal to your sense of beauty ? Same thing about this entire book.
Awful implementation of an idea that I fully adore. In fact, implementations like this undermine the idea, that's why I rate this book so low and put it away with disgust.