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September 1999
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Crème de la crème

Rich's favorite books to add to your technical library

Rich reviews some of the best professional and technical books that have landed on his desk in recent months. (1,000 words)


By Rich Morin
One of the side benefits of writing a column is the fact that I get to look at lots of books. Sometimes these are books that I request; other times they simply show up at my door. In either case, I enjoy looking them over and then (as in this column) telling you which ones I liked the best.

Please note, however, that this column does not attempt to be comprehensive or even totally current in its coverage. Rather, it's a totally subjective, impressionistic review of some my favorite book acquisitions over the last several months. I liked these books a lot; perhaps you will, too.

Cluster computing
Gregory Pfister didn't start out to write a definitive work on cluster computing. He was just putting together some notes in self-defense and things got away from him. His pain is our gain, however; In Search of Clusters is a really wonderful book.

The book is quite interesting and extremely readable, possibly because of its informal beginnings. I have neither the time nor the budget to consider setting up a cluster of computers, yet I found myself happily reading about the issues involved.

My only problem with the book, in fact, is that it doesn't specifically cover Beowulf, the Linux-based cluster technology developed by NASA's Beowulf project. The general background provided by the book, however, would be appropriate to any would-be cluster maker.

Data basics
I recently asked around for some good books on SQL, and was referred by some seasoned SQL hackers to Understanding SQL and Joe Celko's SQL for Smarties. Both of these books have been around for a while, but SQL hasn't changed much, so that's probably OK. (Joe Celko has another edition coming out soon, by the way, if you're not in a big hurry.)

If you already know SQL pretty well, but want to pick up some advanced tricks, you might want to go straight to Celko's book. On the other hand, having a good reference to the basics may not be such a bad idea.

For coverage of more esoteric data handling approaches, I recommend Managing Gigabytes. This book, based on an open source package called mg, describes the creation of a large-scale, online document archive (the New Zealand Digital Library). In doing so, it covers a range of topics in the areas of data compression and indexing, examining underlying issues and available techniques. The result is a readable and authoritative survey course; I found it both interesting and educational.

O'Reilly and Associates doesn't own Perl, but it does have a solid grip on its published documentation. The company now has something like a dozen volumes related to Perl, and the quality is generally very high. If you're serious about learning Perl, you really should have Learning Perl, Programming Perl, and the Perl Cookbook near your desk.

More advanced Perlers should add Advanced Perl Programming and Mastering Regular Expressions. Perlers with specialized needs should consider Learning Perl/Tk, Programming Web Graphics with Perl and GNU Software, Web Client Programming with Perl, Writing Apache Modules with Perl and C, and, taking up four volumes and a CD-ROM, the Perl Resource Kit.

If you have to have your Perl references online, you might consider getting The Perl CD Bookshelf. The CD-ROM contains indexed HTML versions of six popular Perl titles, bundled with a hard-copy version of Perl in a Nutshell.

A few gems of Perliana are available from other publishers. Lincoln Stein's Official Guide to Programming with is short, readable, and definitive. Nigel Chapman's PERL: The Programmer's Companion is an excellent programmer's introduction to Perl, but it may be a bit chewy for beginning programmers. MacPerl: Power and Ease is the book to get if you're interested in using MacPerl.

Brian Kernighan
Brian Kernighan doesn't need my plaudits, but I'll offer them anyway. He is an absolutely top-notch technical writer and editor who has brought a number of great books into existence.

Brian's collaborations include several classic references: The AWK Programming Language (with Al Aho and Peter Weinberger), The C Programming Language (with Dennis Ritchie), The Elements of Programming Style (with P.J. Plauger), The Unix Programming Environment (with Rob Pike), and most recently, The Practice of Programming (with Rob Pike again).

The latter three books are short, elegant courses in Unix and programming philosophy. They should be read by any aspiring Unix programmer; even seasoned Unix programmers could benefit from scanning through them.

Learn more about all of these books in the Resources section below.

About the author
Rich Morin operates Prime Time Freeware (, a publisher of books about open source software. He lives in San Bruno, CA, on the San Francisco peninsula.

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