Most helpful critical review
Good for those who really need their hands held.
on May 27, 2004
I bought this book upon seeing all of the wonderful reviews it was given here on Amazon. I had been designing web pages professionally for about a year, and was ready to make the move to dynamic development. I had only a little knowledge of web programming and attendant technologies and thought this would offer the best place to begin. Unfortuntely for me, it was a little too simplistic.
The book is mapped from beginning to end on an imaginary site, Newland Tours; the reader follows along, doing the steps given, to turn the site from static into dynamic. The problem for me was two-fold. I learn by understanding the fundamentals, and theory, first, and then by trial-and-error. This book allows for neither.
The author barely scrapes the theory or "why" behind any of what is shown; in fact at one point he states that it would be beyond the scope to do so - which is precisely the trouble with much of the book, everything one might want to know seems to be beyond the scope. Much of the book is "do this, do that, save and close." If you make a mistake, you can fix it easily enough by loading the completed page - but this proves to be a double-edged sword. Since the fundamentals of structure and syntax have not been thoroughly realized, the reader may feel as if he has no idea of what went wrong in the process, and it becomes tempting to load the finished pages and move on. In fact, the author encourages this in several spots. So those like me, who like to explore and learn from our mistakes are rather left by the wayside, ironically, in the book's attempt to make itself more newbie-friendly.
Additionally, the pages are bloated with disruptive screenshots, but the code is often obscurely placed, with its attendant notes even more buried inside a paragraph of "advice." This advice follows every single step in the book, but is so overwritten that it fails to convey its intentions in many cases. A paragraph may read like this: "You have to ... You have to ... You have to ... And you have to ..." Again, for a person who learns by trial-and-error, this is slog-through material.
Finally, it was an unfortunate publishing choice (and perhaps not the author's) to try and cover all three scripting languages in one introductory book, particularly one so overly simplified as this - in fact it doesn't make any sense at all. It's akin to trying to learn algebra, geometry, and trigonometry concurrently. It's confusing, annoying, and most often results in skipping or skimming over large chunks of text, even pages and sections. The fact that every one of the author's examples is given in ASP, and that PHP is on several important occassions almost ignored (the form-to-mail script, for instance, is hugely underwritten, with the flimsy excuse that it is too involved to go into) doesn't help.
If you -really, really, really- are clueless in the realm of dynamic web programming, and you like to have someone map everything out for you, and you don't necessarily feel the need to apply this to your own site, but rather just want a general overview to gain some familiarity, this book will be useful (if not helpful). However, if you are actually hoping to build your own site dynamically after going through this book, you might want to consider buying one of these, instead:
Sam's Teach Yourself PHP, MySQL, and Apache All-in-One ;
PHP and MySQL Web Development, by Welling/Thomson, second ed.
-- or any other book suited to your language of choice (ASP, CFML).
Both are much more informative and far more open-ended.