Book brands

Do you buy computer books? why?

Do you care about the brand/publisher?

I’ve just ordered 5 books, each from a different publisher, but I do have some preconceived ideas.

  • Wrox (red books) for example are usually mainly a help file reprint I find
  • Apress are good, and seem to publish plenty of peripheral stuff.
  • Dummies usually have some instantly useful snippets, but don’t always provide a decent foundation to fill in the gaps.
  • O’Reilly are a bit too formula based layout-wise, but often have good content.

Most of the others seem to be pretty mixed and I wouldn’t know what to expect in the book just by knowing the publisher.

What do you think of the stylised books like Dummies and O’Reilly? Personally I wouldn’t say that a familiar layout particularly helps my comprehension or recall. Does it work for you?

[btw I used as they are faster (and currently (just) cheaper) than Amazon]



18 Responses to “Book brands”

  1. alastair Says:

    I tend to use google for general reference lookups (although it is often frustratingly difficult to formulate the search query!). If I buy a book it is for specific learning purpose, so I prefer to browse in a bookstore.

  2. excelgeezer Says:

    I buy very few books (seem to have a lot though, no idea where from, and haven’t read any, or all, of most of them).

    I agree about Apress though, they seem to be trying to be an informative, useful publisher, although their Regular Expressions for Windows book is rubbish (always one bad apple I guess). I guess you must like IDG Books as well .

    My most read books though are McKinney’s Hardcore Visual Basic (Microsoft), Excel 2000 VBA (Wrox), Date’s Introduction to Database Systems (Addison-Wesley), and Stephen Few’s Information Dashboard Design, which breaks the O’Reilly format in my view. Oddly, although I have PED, I have read very little of it.

    Personally, I don’t think you can assume anytrhing about the book from the publisher, there is good and bad in all.

  3. Harlan Grove Says:

    Does depend on the subject. I do a lot of statistics, and the two books to which I refer most often were published by Springer and Chapman & Hall.

  4. Zach Says:

    Three layers of nested parentheses in that last sentence – a true sign of a programmer!

  5. Jayson Says:

    I find that the cookbook books are the most helpful for me. I don’t usually get a lot out of in depth technical discussions. When I need an answer I want to see an example of how a method is used, then adapt it for my needs.

    I can usually find this on Google, but the cookbooks are good for flipping through and using a random item just to stretch the mind.

  6. dougaj4 Says:

    My only firm rule is that I refuse to buy a book with the word “Dummies” in the title, even if it is written by John Walkenbach.

  7. Simon Says:

    I still use some snippets from a JW Excel or VBA dummies book – some of the most practically useful code I’ve seen.

    I got presenting for Dummies when I started doing conferences etc and it was superb.

    I like the dummies/idiot/24hours books for a quick skim over the surface of a new subject.

    Zack – square ones don’t count surely? Maybe I should use {} to show my C cred?

  8. jonpeltier Says:

    I’ve gotten a lot of mileage from my SQL for Dummies book.

  9. dougaj4 Says:

    Perhaps I should add that the only “Dummies” book I have looked at is JW’s Excel 2007 for Dummies, and from a brief look that seemed to be an excellent book, and not just for “dummies”.

    I just don’t like the title.

  10. Harlan Grove Says:

    Me, I’m waiting for ‘Remedial Education for Dummies’. Or ‘Ventriloquism for Dummies’.

  11. Adam Vero Says:

    “Shop window decoration for Dummies”

    I’m not too tied to publisher brands, although I do find that I have several Sybex exam cram books. I tend to get these not just for exam cramming (of course) but if I need a high-level quick view of a new subject with enough detail to use for reference later. I have also used the “step by step” application books from MS Press for the same thing occasionally (in one case learning enough FrontPage in about 2 hours to sound credible in an interview where they had stated it as a “good to have”. I got the job and bought Dreamweaver before designing their new intranet from scratch)

    I often like O’Reilly books, the hacks ones can be quite good but some of the content a bit obscure or esoteric (read my review of Excel Hacks here: ).
    The O’reilly “annoyances” series are a mixed bag. The Word one was pretty good, but Curtis Frye did himself no favours shoehorning some good information into this format for an Excel one. Most of what he included is simply “how do I do this?” not “this does not work like I expect, how do I fix it?” which is what makes the Word one so useful.

    Sybex “in the field” series are often good, in depth, real-world – the Windows Administration Command Line one being a great example. MS press Inside Out are OK for techie subject (server 2003 for example) but I find the Office 2007 seriously lacking. are a good independent house with lots of useful material on FOSS topics (Sugar CRM, Asterisk), code (especially web and RAD stuff like Ruby on Rails) and more mainstream things like SBS and server 2003/AD.

    For tech subjects, I like Mark Minasi’s windows administrator series from Sybex (not all by Mark, other authors collaborate on titles or are written independently, such as Jeremy Moskowitz’s Group Policy series).
    Jesper Johansson writes well on security topics.

    As for buying books, I take recommendations from people, websites, and blogs and sometimes will buy just on this basis. For a new subject I tend to browse a larger bookstore (such as Borders, where I can usually get a coffee and walk around with it, sit at a table and go through a pile of books). If I find something there under £30 I tend to buy it rather than stiff them for the sake of saving a few quid online – after all their extra overheads are what gives me the luxury of browsing that way so I don’t begrudge it for those few times.
    Online, I have yet to beat bookstore at for prices – always cheaper than Amazon by some 5-10% at least. Service is good too (it’s actually a franchise of ComputerBookshops, I think). They also do optional part deliveries if some titles are out of stock, at no extra cost. But they do charge for delivery so if you only buy one cheap title it may not be worth the saving.

    This (as recommended by our very own Smurf) was only available from Amazon, not theReg, so I had to get it there:
    Just ordered it on a whim based on Simon’s write up, so it better be good!

    On the topic of books, anyone signed up to BookRabbit yet? It’s like Flickr for your bookshelf. – signup, login and see my profile (and a handful of my several hundred books) here:

    Roughly how much do people spend each year on fiction / non-fiction (job related) / non-fiction for fun (eg popular science, biography)?
    I have a policy of only buying fiction second hand these days (gifts excluded of course). I take them and donate them back to the charity shop down the road once I have finished. Cheaper than overdue fees at our local library, and more serendipity in what I choose to read. Shop gets to sell the book twice as well. So yearly probably £100 or less.
    Non-fiction for work, probably nearer £500 a year. Other non-fiction maybe £200 or so.

  12. Simon Says:

    Fiction 0
    non fiction hobby 2- 300
    nf computing/business/work 500-1k (percentage read in 12m – 70%)
    swotbooks used to be good, but they seem to have disappeared.

  13. Bob Phillips Says:

    Fiction £500+
    Non-fiction fun – very variable depending upon what I am into a a point, but a lot less than fiction
    Job related – £100-200 or so.

    Adam, blog a review of that book, I would be interested in reading it.

    Simon, I think you should get a good book on getting the right size bike.

  14. Simon Says:

    Bob all my bikes are the right size for their purpose, and all are different sizes.

  15. Randy Says:

    I am a High School Computer Teacher, learning Excel VBA on my own. I am continually trying to incorporate new topics into my lessons for my students to keep them engaged and expand their knowledge. I have found that most of the books out there have some problems with either the explanation of their content, or lack thereof, or their code examples, probably due to proofing errors and the Publisher’s rush to get books into the stores. I think some authors forget that their intended reading audience can easily be confused by topics they know and take for granted. Many times, I have had to refer to multiple books, use a lot of intuition to read what wasn’t in the explanation text or code, and a lot of trial and error using the VBE and referring to the built in Object Model to get things to work in the projects I am working on. I had 2 years of learning and using VB6 and if I had not had that experience, it would have been a lot harder.

    I have found John Walkenbach’s Books and the Excel Hacks book to be the most useful, and error free. Bill Jelens (Mr. Excel) books helped a lot at times, and his website and links have been invaluable for helping me find more information, including eventually finding this blog. I agree with Simon on his overall book comments. The Wrox 2000, 2003 books on Excel Programming were disappointing. Not quite an absolute waste of money, but the books will sit on my shelf and probably will be referred to in case of last resort. I spent over a month on finally getting something to work right. From my classroom teacher’s perspective, The Wiley Visual series is a good start for a beginner, but the smaller print in the shoutouts are bit hard to read with age 50 + eyes!

    I’d like to pass along a recommendation for a learning text series. I use the Shelly-Cashman Series from (Cengage learning, formerly Thomson Learning out of Boston.)

    The Shelly Cashman Series covers a multitude of subjects, MS Office, Photoshop, Publisher, VB.Net, Java, etc. The books all have excellent graphics and exercises, good companion websites, End of Chapter Summaries and topic reviews, including page numbers where the topic was covered. Of all the textbooks I reviewed, these most relevant content in terms of being meaningful to students. Once in awhile a copy will show up at the local Borders or Barnes & Noble. I recommend them most highly.

  16. Patrick O'Beirne Says:

    Re Adam’s comment on
    “Just ordered it on a whim based on Simon’s write up, so it better be good!”
    If it comes up short anywhere, let me know so I can post additions on the support web site!
    (and improve the next edition…)

    In answer to the question… I buy books that address current concerns, even if they only solve some of the problem. It’s easier to be brought through something step by step than footle about endlessly googling for the right combination of words that other people might use to describe what you are looking for.

  17. Patrick O'Beirne Says:

    (I thought I submitted a comment but don’t see it – try again)

    To answer the question, I book books to introduce me to new technologies. Or sometimes to bring me through something in detail quicker than googling endlessly to find the right words that other people used to describe my problem.

    Re Adam Vero’s comment on
    “Just ordered it on a whim based on Simon’s write up, so it better be good!”

    If it’s missing anything, tell me so I can add it to the support web page!
    (and the next edition)

  18. Simon Says:

    Sorry Patrick you got spambinned, how rude!
    Sorted now

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