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Monday, January 12, 2009

Diving into "Dive Into Python"

Well I'm now five chapters deep in Dive Into Python, which is available completely for free as a PDF.

It's an older book, but still relevant for its unusual and fantastic approach of teaching a new language to experienced programmers. The approach seems so obvious, and yet it's difficult to come up with examples of other titles which follow the same approach.


Each chapter begins with a short code example which highlights the power of Python while performing non-trivial tasks such as outputting the language's own documentation or displaying directory listings with file metadata.

These examples highlight the succinctness of the language while including a new language concept per chapter, effectively booting the reader into a frigid pond of fresh semi-obtuse language constructs ('Get thrown into freezing cold pond of python' doesn't have quite the same ring though).

The remainder of the chapter is always devoted simply to exposing the constructs and syntax of the example; both what and how it all works, line-by-line if necessary. Code samples are available from the website, and the chapter encourages a hands-on approach of running and modifying sample code.

At each chapter's conclusion, a checklist of concepts is presented and the semi-obtuse sample seen at its start reads as clearly as a language you've known all along.

It makes perfect sense that the best way to learn a language is by dissecting code beyond one's current reading level and then changing and authoring examples to reinforce it all. It's a bit strange that fewer books go as far as this one, but it's possible the "by Example" series follows a similar tack.

Dive Into Python's chief drawback is it's age--the book was written way back in 2003, the time of Python 2.3 (it's now the age of 2.6 and the dawn of 3.0). Still, this is a much more fun way to learn than reading, for example, Python in a Nutshell, as I was doing (it's more of a reference manual anyway, though more up to date).

1 comment:

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