David's Reviews > Programming Erlang

Programming Erlang by Joe Armstrong
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's review
Jan 15, 2009

it was ok
Read in August, 2009

A book with big cons and big pros. I think it will be easiest if I simply list the cons and the pros.

Let's start with the cons, all of which I attribute to editors asleep at the wheel or on crack:
1. The book is laid out in a reader-hostile manner: topics are introduced completely out-of-order. You'll be skipping around a lot to find in-depth answers for anything.
2. The index is worthless. You're rolling the dice when you try to find a particular topic. Chances are good it's not in the index.
3. Many important items are in a 20-page section entitled "5.4 Miscellaneous Short Topics." All of these topics could have been properly placed in appropriately-titled sections elsewhere in the book.
4. The syntax of the language is seemingly random to a newcomer. You never know if a line will need to end with a period, semicolon, or comma. By the time you're done with the book, you'll have figured all of this out. But I never came across a section describing the language syntax!
5. Much of the text of the book is Armstrong tooting Erlang's horn. I'm glad he likes it, but most of that should have been trimmed from the book.
6. There are a few errors in the source. This is always painful in a programming book.
7. Between the illogical structure of the book and the painfully unhelpful error messages from Erlang itself, getting through the thing can be a painful exercise.
8. Thankfully, I've already made a study of functional programming (i.e. immutable data, lambda, etc.) I think this book would be a challenging introduction to the subject, as it does not spend much time explaining the theory and practice.

Pros:
1. Armstrong really seems to enjoy showing off Erlang's features. The enthusiasm is nice.
2. There are some good examples in the book.
3. By the time you're done, you'll feel like you have a pretty good grasp of the language.
4. The language itself has a number of very interesting conceptual features. The book does do a good job of presenting what is advantageous and unique about Erlang.

In all, it's a decent book completely crippled by a complete lack of a good book editor. Since there is now an O'Reilly book called "Erlang Programming", I'd suggest taking a look at it instead. O'Reilly has good editors.

Strangely, I've noticed a propensity for Erlang supporters to confuse criticism of this book with criticism of Erlang (or even of functional programming in general!) itself. Please do not make that confusion here.
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message 1: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Goldstein I totally agree!


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