|go ahead... be a heretic|
Reviewing bad books.by gmax (Abbot)
|on Dec 26, 2001 at 11:47 UTC||Need Help??|
Dear fellow Monks,
A few days ago I downloaded the latest merlyn's speech from DDJ web site (after a hint from this node), and enjoyed 58 minutes of geek talk with fascinating details about Perl's origin and present status. Very entertaining and informative. Also from my view of a non-native speaker, a surprising example of clarity. Even though merlyn speaks faster than I usually like to follow, his talk is really easy to understand. Moreover, since he praises PerlMonks in highly elogiative words, he made me feel on the right side of the technical community. Bravo!
Towards the end of the speech, merlyn triggered my immagination about quality of technical books. He mentioned that, while a plethora of excellent Perl books are available, there are several ones containing serious mistakes and misleading information. He did not expose the names, though, for fear of being accused of unfair competition, I believe.
These remarks made me think that such info should be made public. Technical books cost good money, and even though I have a job that allows me not to go broke after a foolish expense, the side damage of trusting one of such books could be a costly mistake.
It is not difficult to come across a bad book, even if you are an IT professional and an experienced reader. You can get it as a gift from somebody who doesn't know anything about computers but was convinced by the publisher's review, for example. You can buy it from the net, after reading an exciting review by some moron who apparently mistook the book for something else. Or, sometimes, you know the author from previous books that you have read and trust him to give you the same quality in his latest works. What you don't know is that the author might have had a row with his publisher and decided to retire in meditation, while the book was finished by the publisher's nephew who once attended a seminar on VB and now he feels qualified to discuss the merits of Perl because 'they are basically the same thing, Uncle, aren't they?'
Whatever the reason that brought an awful book into your house, what can you do? Throwing it up to the highest shelf or down to the basement will help healing your ego, but is is not going to keep fellow programmers from making the same mistake. Donating to the local library could be a first step, since people are always suspicious of brand new books with a stamp "Thanks to the gracious generosity of Joseph GoodHeart Jr. Esq."
But what we should really do is scream at the top of our lungs "This book sucks!", so loud that nobody interested could miss the message.
So far, I was lucky in my choice. I was relieved to see that all the ten Perl books in my shelves enjoy positive reviews in this very site. I am a cautious buyer, and if I have the chance of physically browsing the book in a real world bookstore I go rarelly mistaken. But I went through some of the above scenarios for other subjects, IT and other, whenever the circumstances kept me away from the tangible bookstores, and now, as I feel the urgency of keeping my knowledge up-to-date, I would really like to avoid some nasty surprises, especially if some of the Monks could share useful information on this respect. I am working in a place where physical bookstores are just a dream, and the net is all I have got.
As for pointing out bad books, I understand the caution of an author of popular books, who could not afford the risk of a public inimity in the publishing circles. However, there are many ways of conveying the "Don't buy that book!" message. Maybe passing factual information, privately, to somebody who doesn't have a manuscript waiting in a drawer, could allow the information to be spread throughout the Perl community, saving wannabe Perl programmers the embarassment of starting with the wrong foot.
From my side, whenever I could, I have always tried to share my misfortune with others.
I think that explicit "inverse advertising" based on factual information, such as bad grammar, broken scripts, lack of security, could be safely established in our environment and would be beneficial for most of the Perl community.
And all the above leads to this open proposal.
What about setting a voting page for books and articles? So far, we can only give our evaluation to a review if somebody has written it. If the average Monk doesn't have the time or the skills to write a complete review, but just wants to point out a few horrible things that happened to find out at his/her own expenses, (s)he should be able to do so with a "--" and a quick note.
Does anybody share my view?
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