Begin main content

Book reviews

iPhone SDK 3 Visual Quickstart Guide

by Duncan Campbell [url] [ buy this book on ]

CocoaHeads Sydney member Duncan Campbell has just published a book with PeachPit press titled "iPhone SDK 3 Visual Quickstart Guide".

Like all of Peachpit's "Visual Quickstart Guides", the book is mostly broken into two columns - text and images. At first I thought it would suck! As soon as I got into it though, I quite liked the thin column. It has readability like a newspaper, although it did make following inline code a little tedious.

The book covered all the basics you need for making a great app, and made some tricky tasks simple - like custom cells and multi-touch.

It avoids a common approach of many intro books where they continually build into an ever evolving single app. Instead, each example is short and entirely standalone. I have to say it was refreshing - it avoided wasting time in frivolities and allowed the author to introduce concepts at the time he chose, rather than the time it was needed to continue building the app.

I also appreciated the time spent on one of the most important rools - the Xcode interface. Even I learned a handy Xcode shortcut!

The choice to use code for UI layout instead of interface builder makes the writing easier to follow, no enless 'click here, control click and drag here...' and also avoids those madenning bugs where you've missed a step but can't easily compare the compound result. Similarly, the continual tweaks to IB won't invalidate the examples.

I also appreciated how each example was standalone - building and running an interesting looking example didn't rely on carefully building examples stretching back through previous chapters.

Two extra chapters can be downloaded as PDFs from the Peachpit press website once you have the book covering the Address Book api and the Media apis. The latter is very useful - covering saved images, using the camera and playing audio and video.

While this is a book for people starting out with iPhone programming, it's not for people who have never programmed before. If you have programmed before but don't know at least the bare basics of one of C, C++, Objective-C then I would suggest completing an introduction to Objective-C first. Apple has one and there are lots of great books.

One of the positives above is that the use of code to create UI controls is repeatable, easy to error check and shows how it all works. Once you start building apps, though, you'll use Interface Builder a lot. You'll need to brush up on that after completing this book. Again, Apple has one and there are lots of great books! Aaron Hillegass's Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X will cover both Objective-C and Interface Builder really well - and you'll learn how to write MacOS X apps to boot!

So in summary, it's a great book. I enjoyed it and you hopefully will too! Available at Amazon and all good bookstores :)

(Reviewed 25-10-2009) Add Comment

Reader comments:

Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X

by Aaron Hillegass [url] [ buy this book on ]

The book for learning MacOS X Cocoa programming. You need it.

(Reviewed 25-10-2009) Add Comment

Theories of International Relations

by Burchill S., Linklater A., Devetak R., Donnelly J., Paterson M., Reus-Smit C., True J. [url] [ buy this book on ]

The best thing I've ever read on International Relations Theory. Guaranteed to be better than any text book you're prescribed. I have the third edition from 2005 - not sure if there's a newer one or not. (Reviewed 01-12-2008) Add Comment

Hackers & Painters

by Paul Graham [url] [ buy this book on ]

I always enjoy Paul Graham's essays, but this book is surprisingly profound. A must read. (Reviewed 01-12-2008) Add Comment

type idea index

by Jim Krause [url] [ buy this book on ]

This pocket book (for a fairly big pocket!) groups typefaces and typography ideas into themes like energy, elegance, order, rebellion.

It's pretty cool - even if only for the nice fresh vinyl smell from the cover :)

(Reviewed 15-06-2008) Add Comment

Algorithms with Perl

by Jon Orwant; Jarkko Hietaniemi; John Macdonald [url] [ buy this book on ]

Well pitched book - somewhere in between a serious pseudo-code thumping algorithm book and a dummies/cookbook. Not for the feint of heart, but you don't have to be able to speed read Donald Knuth to get into it! (Reviewed 23-11-2007) Add Comment

Revolution in The Valley

by Andy Hertzfeldt [url] [ buy this book on ]

Awesome collection of short stories and anecdotes from the original Mac team. Many of the stories can be read online at Andy Hertzfeldt's but there are many great extras in the book, including my favourite - a collection of Bill Atkinson's Polaroids documenting the evolution of QuickDraw and the Finder UI.

Here's a sampler from one of the many aweosome stories involving the great Burrell Smith:

Burrell started thinking about what it would take to get promoted. It obviously wasn't a matter of talent or technical skill, since he was already far more accomplished in that regard than most of the other hardware engineers. It wasn't a matter of working harder, since Burrell already worked harder and was more productive than most of the others. Finally, he noticed something that most of the other engineers had in common that he was lacking: they all had fairly prominent moustaches. And the engineering managers tended to have even bigger moustaches. Tom Whitney, the engineering VP, had the largest moustache of all.
(Reviewed 19-11-2007) Add Comment


by Steve Wozniak with Gina Smith [url] [ buy this book on ]

Auto-biography of one of the hardware (and software) heroes of all time.

From classic Woz design ethic:

I was stunned. Because he made me realize in an instant that the simpler computer design would really have fewer connections, not simply fewer chips. So my goal changed, from designing for fewer chips to trying to have the smallest board possible.

to awesome pranks like the Zaltair 8800.

A must read for any apple aficionado, hardware designer or software developer.

(Reviewed 30-08-2007) Add Comment

Founders at Work (Stories of Startups' Early Days)

by Jessica Livingston [url] [ buy this book on ]

Absolutely fascinating. Essential reading for any business person, whether you're an entrepreneur or big business junkie.

Guy Kawasaki suggested it should be called "Flounders at Work" - there are certainly a lot of lessons you can learn from others' failure! But also plenty of awesome success that leaves you thinking "I can do that too" :)

Favourite quotes:

All the best things I did at Apple came from (a) not having money, and (b) not having done it before, ever.

-- Steve Wozniak
You're competing against the back of an envelope. It's got to be really easy to use.

-- Dan Bricklin quoting his business school Professor
(Reviewed 15-06-2007) Add Comment

designing the obvious

by robert hoekman, jr. [url] [ buy this book on ]

Fairly straightforward basic stuff, but all pretty good, relevant stuff. Compact book, worth having, especially if you see it in a bargain bin.
Designing the Obvious explains why and how wo design Web-based applications that are so easy to use that people attribute their ability to use them effectively to pure common sense.
(Reviewed 09-05-2007) Add Comment

Generating All Tuples and Permutations

by Donald E. Knuth [url] [ buy this book on ]

This is fascile 2 of volume 4 of Knuth's legendary series "The Art of Computer Programming".

I have to confess that my brain is violently protesting that it is way too rusty on things like boolean algebra, tree theory etc. Every individual page of Knuth's writing is so densly packed with information they require numerous readings. But the challenge is fantastic and I'm looking forward to being more than rock solid on some of the theoretical underpinnings of programming algorithms.

I also bought the following fascile which is about trees. It promises to be much more interesting, but I assume the tree search theory will rely heavily on this fascile so I'm wading through it first.

(Reviewed 17-11-2006) Add Comment

Practices of an Agile Developer

by Venkat Subramaniam, Andy Huunt [url] [ buy this book on ]

This is a truly fantastic book. Of recent buzzwords, Agile must be right up there in terms of number of books published. As buzzwords go, however, Agile is one I love. It stands for all things good in software development. It stands for processes that make sense and practices that are good for business and good for people.

It's this "goodness" of practise that Practices of an Agile Developer focusses on. Andy Hunt is one of the original proponents and describers of the agile way. This book succinctly champions good practices that I really hope catch on. It's what I've been doing (or trying to do) for years and if it becomes seen as "best practise" by other business and IT people then we will at last be able to do away with many of the ironically named "best practices" that we have been shackled with (and working around) for years.

The book is an easy read and points are broken up with nice devices such as the devil and angel counterpoints. Like:

You don't need to really understand that piece of code; it seems to work OK as it is. Oh, but it just needs one small tweak. Just add one to the result, and it works. Go ahead and put that in; it's probably fine.
Don't share what you know—keep it to yourself. It's to your advantage to be the Smart One on the team. As long as you're smart you can forget about those other losers.
These are, of course, the devil quotes (you did realise that ... I hope!). You'll have to get the book to get the angel counterpoints.

(Reviewed 11-10-2006) Add Comment

Programming Ruby

by Dave Thomas [url] [ buy this book on ]

Aka The Pickaxe book. If you want a book to help you learn (or improve in) Ruby, there is no real alternative to this book, so it's just as well that it's well written and enjoyable to read/work through.

Although Ruby is a nicer (IMO) language than Perl, it has not (yet) inspired a book quite in the same league as Programming Perl (see below). I have a theory that due to the linguistic roots of Perl, it is the most likely language to attracted wordsmiths. The crispness and preciseness (are those words?) of Ruby attracts a slightly different kind of person (or perhaps brings about different attitudes and thought patterns) and these differences can be seen in the literature and communities. Hey, don't shoot me - it's just a theory!

(Reviewed 14-06-2006) Add Comment

The Second Coming of Steve Jobs

by Alan Deutschman [url] [ buy this book on ]

I really didn't think this book would be worth reading. In fact I only bought it because I saw it on the $5 table (that's AUD - about 2.5 real dollars).

I certainly learnt a lot more about Pixar than I knew previously (being more of an Apple watcher than a Jobs watcher). What I found especially interesting was the pre-Jobs history of Pixar and how much of a legend John Lasseter is (cast in this book as an anti-Steve ;)

(Reviewed 14-06-2006) Add Comment

Domain Driven Design

by Eric Evans [url] [ buy this book on ]

Boy I've been looking for a book like this for a long time. It creates a language for talking about all the domain-based desgin decisions I've been trying to convince colleagues and managers about for years (with a few notable exceptions who already "get it" - Rusty, Lars, Rob and Ryan).

I've barely started reading, but I'm already excited. The examples of good and bad projects in the introduction hit all my buttons. I am confident that I will learn a lot as well as gain a language to better explain the concepts to others.

Rather than seperating design from implementation (as so many texts do), Evans also ties domain model design directly into Agile development techniques especially discussing how iteration cycles relate to design and how the domain model can improve through the process of releasing the software. This, then, means that close collaboration is required between the designer, domain specialist and developer all at once. (YES YES!). He also holds that the implicit interweave between development, refactoring and design requires a high level of skill and cohesion in the entire development team, especially when employing Agile project methods (YES YES YES!).

Phew. Reading this might make my heart ache and my blood boil at times (thinking about times when I have been in projects where these ideas are not held) but it will be enlightening nonetheless.

I'll be sure to post more as I read it.


Programming Perl

by Wall, Christiansen & Orwant [url] [ buy this book on ]

There's not much to say. The "Camel Book". If you want to program in Perl, or you want to program better in Perl, you need this book.

I famously read all 1,000 pages cover to cover in a weekend - and then aced a Perl test with a prospective employer on the Monday.

You couldn't do that with many programming books, but thanks mostly to the genius of Larry Wall this book is eminently readable.

If you're a software developer and you want to expand the languages you know (for fun or for profit) then I would heartily recommend learning Perl with this book. Then go make friends at and you might get more fun and productivity than you bargained for.

(Reviewed 11-04-2006) Add Comment

Agile Java

by Jeff Langr [url] [ buy this book on ]

Just as the mainstream IT world is getting over it's honeymoon with Java I figure it might be worth getting better acquainted!

My previous experience with Java has always been awt and swing gui applications - the most tedious and verbose coding to be had anywhere.

I have spent a little time focussing only on the language and test-driven development (using Junit) within the eclipse IDE (set to emacs keys of course). I have to say I am pleasantly surprised.

Maybe it's because I'm browsing through Agile Java which seems like quite a good book. Maybe it's because I've done a fair bit of C and Objective-C programming lately and I've grown more accepting of less-than-flexible languages.

Anyway I'm quite enjoying it. After all, I'm running out of new languages to learn - I'll have to write my own soon!

(Reviewed 11-04-2006) Add Comment

Perl 6 Essentials

by Randal, Sugalski & Tötsch [url] [ buy this book on ]

Not for the faint hearted, This book is essential reading for the software engineer wanting to evaluate development languages for the future. Or the Perl nut who loves to be involved in the Perl community.

Perl 6 contains many more good ideas than I imagined, plus a few (long argued over) changes to existing ideas that may or may not turn out to be a good idea. Whichever, you won't find a stronger discussion of program language design in many other places.

Thanks to Stuart Cooper for picking me up this slightly out of date copy for 5 bucks!

(Reviewed 11-04-2006) Add Comment

Transact-SQL Programming

by Kline, Gould & Zanevsky [url] [ buy this book on ]

The only book on developing for Sybase that doesn't suck. That's about the best endorsement I can come up with!

(Reviewed 31-01-2006) Add Comment

Higher-Order Perl

by Mark Jason Dominus [url] [ buy this book on ]

While this book is somewhat weakened by completely ignoring object orientation and solely using callbacks as its abstraction method of choice, there are many excellent ideas for programmers of all types.

Currying, Parsing and Memoization, some of the key topics of this book, should be familiar terms to all good programmers.

(Reviewed 31-01-2006) Add Comment

From Memex to Hypertext: Vanevar Bush and the Mind's Machine

by James M. Nyce and Paul Kahn [url] [ buy this book on ] description:

Vannevar Bush, the engineer who designed the world's most powerful analog computer, predicted the development of a new kind of computing machine he called Memex. For many computer and information scientists, Bush's Memex has been the prototype for a machine to help people think. This book contains Bush's essays, and original essays by academic and commerical researchers relating the state of art in personal computing, hypertext and information retrieval software to bush's ideas and Memex.

(Reviewed 11-05-2005) Add Comment

In Harm's Way

by Doug Stanton [url] [ buy this book on ]

The USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in 1945. 1196 men went into the water, 317 survived...
Like Black Hawk Down, In Harms Way is a powerfully written novel-style account of a true story. Doug Stanton's writing is based on research and interviews - his narrative weaves together three seperate time lines of the three main characters : the captain, the ship's doctor and a young marine.

I couldn't put this book down - it is as shocking as it gripping. Some of the very best and the very worst of the armed forces comes out in this story.

(Reviewed 03-03-2005) Add Comment

Insanely Great

by Steven Levy [url] [ buy this book on ]

If you know nothing about the birth of the Macintosh at Apple in the 1980s, you need to read this book.

If you think you know everything about the Macintosh—you need to read this book because you don't.

It's interesting, amusing, you will shake your head at the wonder as well as the stupidity.

Can we have the Newton project restarted please :-)

(Reviewed 22-12-2004) Add Comment

High Tech Startup

by John L. Nesheim [url] [ buy this book on ]

I bought this book some time ago, but only browsed it at the time. Now I am strting to read it in detail, and it is proving quite interesting.

First self-published in 1997 and subsequently revised and re-published by The Free Press, it is framed in the height of the dotcom IPO boom—I'm not sure a similar book would be published today.

In evaluating my current position and future, however, it is instructional (discusisng such practicals as ownership, funding sources and business plans) and cautionary (in one place referencing the oft-quoted Entrepreneurial Terror article by Wilson Harrell.).

Entrepreneurship will never go out of style—as evidenced by the enormous TV ratings of Mark Burnett's The Apprentice helped along by the master Entrepreneur Donald Trump.

Back to the book though—It is definately worth reading, but it doesn't quite reach the subheading of THe complete handbook for creating successful new high tech companies.

Perhaps Donald Trump is right when he says entrepreneurs are born not made. I'm not so sure...

(Reviewed 14-06-2004) Add Comment

Engines of Logic

by Martin Davis [url] [ buy this book on ]

I bought this book a few years ago on a bookshop browse, but just recently read it (well, I haven't quite finished).

It is a fascinating book about the history of the computer all the way back to the beginnings of logic theory in the late 1600's with G. W. Leibniz. The book is very mathematical and personal at the same time. It well conveys the mathematical passion as well as the personal lives of the mathematicians.

If this is your kind of thing, then you will read it cover to cover and finish with names such as Boole, Hilbert, Gödel, Leibniz and, of course, Turing in your heart like good friends.

A warning that even for this computer science graduate with engineering maths, th book was sometimes heavy going requier numerous re-reads of some of the maths. I'm still not sure I understand Gödel's disproof of Hilbert - but that's probably why I'm not a mathematician!

You can, however, skip those parts without wrecking the history or story of these amazing men.

Peter Wayner of Wired Magazine had this to say:

An elegant history of the search for the boundaries of logic and the machines that live within them. Blending mathematical details with biographical tidbits, Davis explains ho we've come to understand what we do about the limits of computers and logical thought...[His] book is a full-contact tour through an important branch of math and logic.
Now, to find wealthy noble or aristocrat to sponsor my research ;)

(Reviewed 13-06-2004) Add Comment

The Mitrokhin Archive

by Christopher Andrew [url] [ buy this book on ]

This book is like refined gold for anyone interested in the machinations of the cold war. Vasili Mitrokhin was an archivist for the KGB, with access to the top levels of secret information. During his many years in that position, he carefully copied the most interesting and pertinent doucuments and hid them in trunks at his home. In 1992 he defected to Britain and was exfiltrated by the British SIS with his family and his documents. The documents name thousands of KGB agents and conspiring Western institutions.

I call it refined Gold because Christopher does most of the hard work of linking world events together for you, but it is sometimes quite tough reading, although nearly always gripping.

Nevertheless, it delivers amazing information far above what you would ever have thought possible - a must buy!

(Reviewed 01-12-2003) Add Comment

Reader comments:


by Jack Welch [url] [ buy this book on ]

The US subtitle of this book is Straight from the gut. The less catchy international subtitle is What I've learned leading a great company and great people.

Both are true decriptors of the content and style of this auto biography by Jack Welch, former CEO of one of the worlds largest companies General Electric.

Jack Welch sets an enviable example of corporate and business culture leadership. This book, his autobiography, offers the reader insigths into creative and sometimes ground breaking global business.

From the back cover:

Welch's story ... will inspire everyone interested in business, in achievement, in leadership and in getting the best out of their own lives.

(Reviewed 17-09-2003) Add Comment

UNIX System Administration Handbook

by Evi Nemeth [url] [ buy this book on ]

Now in it's third edition, the UNIX System Administration Handbook should be on every UNIX admin's bookshelf. It should be in that messy pile of books within arms reach for your first few years of sysadmin-ing, and even after that never be further than your closest bookshelf.

It is humerous, practical and covers all the areas you really need to know about. It is especially good at alerting you to the differences between the various commercial Unixes that can trip you up.

If you have limited interest in commercial Unix, the same authors have a special Linux focussed version of this book called the Linux System Administration Handbook.

Highly reccomended - this book used to save my butt on a regular basis, and it still helps jog my memory when I can't quite remember how Solaris disk naming works!

(Reviewed 09-09-2003) Add Comment

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!

by Ralph Leighton / Richard P. Feynman [url] [ buy this book on ]

A light hearted collection of stories from Richard Feynman's (1918-1988) life.

If you don't know who Richard Feynamn is, you might get an idea from this non-exhaustive list of awards he has won:

  • Albert Einstein Award (1954, Princeton)
  • Einstein Award (Albert Einstein Award College of Medicine)
  • Lawrence Award (1962)
  • The Nobel Prize in Physics (1965)

But don't think this is a boring book - if you have a liking of science then you will appreciate the humour. It is perhaps best described by the following back page excerpts:

Richard Feynman was one of the world's greatest theoretical physicists, but he was also a man who fell, often jumped, into adventure. An artist, safe-cracker, practical joker and story teller, Feynman's life was a series of combustible combinations made possible by his unique mixture of high intelligence, unquenchable curiosity and eternal scepticism.

And this quote by Hans Bethe, another theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate (ie. smart person) is surely true:

There are two types of genius. Ordinary geniuses do great things, but they leave you room to believe that you could do the same if only you worked hard enough. Then there are magicians, and you can have no idea how they do it. Feynman was a magician

The cover of the European printed edition is much funkier than the US edition pictured here!

(Reviewed 26-08-2003) Add Comment

Virtual Murdoch

by Neil Chenoweth [url] [ buy this book on ]

What an appropriate title! News Corporation and the Murdoch personal fortune ride a rollercoaster from everything to nothing (and less) and back again so many times over the course of a few decades. All driven by Rupert Murdoch's insatiable desire for media success and his visionary insight that has predicted so many trends before anyone else. Either that, or his actions have made the trends - both cases are arguable.

Murdoch's deals operate somewhere not quite in the real world, and people who operate otherwise get chewed up along the way. This is a fascinating story - and not just for those with an intimate knowledge of the media business.

Highly recommended - thank's to Jeff Miller for putting me onto this book.

NB: For some strange reason, this book is not available on You can buy it from student bookworld at this link

(Reviewed 19-08-2003) Add Comment

Baptism of Fire

by Frank Collins [url] [ buy this book on ]

I have devoured many Bristish SAS and other special forces books in my time, but this one is unique.

Not only is it an excellent example of the SAS non-fiction genre, we also trace Frank Collin's path to becoming a Christian while in the SAS, and then his career outside the SAS.

Collin's post-SAS carrer includes body guarding for Mohamed al Fayed, but he works towards being ordained as an Anglican minister and finally becomes the SAS regimental chaplin.

This book contains plenty of heart pounding SAS action as well as an intimate picture of a soldier, man and father.

Highly recommended!

(Reviewed 19-08-2003) Add Comment

Reader comments:


by Matthew Reilly [url] [ buy this book on ]

Contest is a fast and furious action novel - part sci-fi, part Tom Clancy, part James Bond. It is impossible to describe this story in a review, but any fan of action will love this book, or any Matt Reilly book. Matt suspends the rules that novels are supposed to obey, and you leave the book feeling like you are walking out of a panavision, dolby digital, big budget blockbuster movie. And if you're not carefull you will stay up all night and finish it in one sitting as well.

One of the many Matt Reilly books on my bookshelf (a full collection so far), Contest deserves singling out. Contest is Matt's first book, which he self published after being knocked back by all publishers he approached. A Pan Macmillan agent bought Contest at a bookstore Matt had sold stock to and the rest, as they say, is history.

This edition is re-published, which is just as well since Matt only printed 1000 originally.


(Reviewed 19-08-2003) Add Comment

Reader comments:

On Entrepeneurship

by Harvard Business Review Staff [url] [ buy this book on ]

A collection of 8 essays previously published in the Harvard Business Review, this book covers a wide range of topics interesting to entrepeneurial people.

Starting with "The Qustions every Entrepeneur Must Answer" right through to "Strategy v.s Tactics" and "Commercializing Technology" this book is a great read for nearly anyone interested in business.

(Reviewed 19-08-2003) Add Comment

Computer Related Risks

by Peter G. Neumann [url] [ buy this book on ]

From the moderator of the Risks digest, this is a classic. Although now aging (published in 1995 - possibly updated since then), it is a collection of technology related disasters (or near disasters) that provide a reminder of timeless traps that we can easily fall into.

With chapters like "The nature of risks" and "Causes and Effects", it is not just for computer scientists.

This book should be on the curriculum of all science and engineering courses.

(Reviewed 19-08-2003) Add Comment


by Douglas Coupland [url] [ buy this book on ]

No geek bookshelf is complete without a copy of microserfs. For those of you who lived the Silicon Valley dream, it is like a snapshot of nostalgia. For those of us who missed out because of geography and/or age, it is like a fable of old - a timeless description of coder nirvana. At the same time it digs further into the human heart and mind of a people group who generally avoid such things - and leaves the reader with a better understanding of themselves (or maybe that's just me...).

From the back cover:

Microserfs: a hilarious, fanatically detailed, and oddly moving book about a handful of misfit Microsoft employees who realize that they don't have lives and subsequently become determined to get lives inside the lightning-paced world of high-tech 1990's American geek culture.

You don't have to be techy to enjoy this book - but if you are, you will love it. Coupland is well known as an unusual but effective documentor of the culture of the times, and rave reviews come from as diverse sources as The New York Times, PC Magazine and Entertainment Weekly.

(Reviewed 19-08-2003) Add Comment


by Henry Kissinger [url] [ buy this book on ]

I have yet to finish this book, but so far it is a classic.

Not only is it full of insightfully presented detail, it is eminently readable.

Anyone into world politics and foreign policy needs to read this book. Even if you don't traditionally side with Kissinger, you will get a lot out of it.

From the back cover:

Moving from a sweeping overview of history to blow-by-blow accounts of his negotiations with world leaders, Henry Kissinger describes how the art of diplomacy has created the worls in which we live, and how America's approach to foreign affairs has always differed vastly from that of other nations.

This focus on America's view of relationships between nation states is particularly interesting in the light of recent world events. The fact that it was published in 1994 doesn't diminish this. In fact it is perhaps even more valuable since it does not try to react to the current state of events.

Thank's to Dave and Catherine Thambiratnam for lending me this book :)

(Reviewed 01-08-2003) Add Comment