"Python: A Visual QuickStart Guide," Chris Fehily

Pros: Great basics; hilarious examples
Cons: Assumes a little familiarity with programming; you’ll need more information eventually
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

First published 12/19/2001

I’m pretty new to the programming world, although most of my friends and family have been doing it for years. I finally got dragged into it kicking and screaming when I realized that my ideas for what I wanted to do with my web site were eventually going to require me to know more than just HTML, and I wanted to be able to do the work myself. I also wanted to have a good feel for what my options were and what they were capable of, so I picked up books on all sorts of subjects: Perl and CGI, Python, PHP, JavaScript, and more.

My mother (long-time programmer) is laughing now. I can just hear her…

If you haven’t read any of my other Visual QuickStart Guide reviews, I’ll get that part out of the way first. Visual QuickStart Guides are a life-saver for someone like me. That is: someone who’s a real beginner (or very close to it), who’s pretty self-starting and wants to learn from a book, but who isn’t incredibly technical and needs to be eased into the subject. You can perhaps see why the first book I get on any technical subject is a VQSG.

Python and Chris Fehily

I can already tell that I like Python better than Perl; I find it easier to wrap my head around and easier to understand. I do need to be clear that this particular book is not aimed specifically at web design, and that the author states that he assumes at least a little familiarity with programming. On the other hand, I came out of this book feeling like I could actually understand how the demonstrated concepts inside could be usefully employed in real-world programs, even if I didn’t entirely know how. That’s mostly what I wanted: the basics of the language, along with some idea of how they’d really be used, because I find it easier to remember things if I have context for them.

It further helps that the author is an absolute riot; there are examples of dictionaries involving the means of death of various “Star Wars” characters. I ended up reading one part out loud to my husband it was just so funny. Amusing examples may seem like a needless extra, but I find them very important. They help to keep my eyes from glazing over in the midst of all the dry technical-speak.

Topics Covered

Fehily walks you through all the basics, although he says that you really should know another language first. He starts with things like the difference between interactive mode and script mode, and how to use them both. There’s an entire chapter on expressions and statements, one on working with numbers, another on strings, another on lists and tuples, another on dictionaries, a chapter on control flow statements (compound statements, null statements, conditionals, loops), and a chapter each on functions, modules, files, exceptions, and classes. The book also has the usual complement of suggestions for other places to find information on Python.

If you’re looking for a way to ease into Python, this is definitely a good one. You’ll certainly pick up the basics, you’ll have an easier time staying awake if dry material tends to put you to sleep, and you’ll learn it all in a non-threatening manner. Once again, the Visual QuickStart Guides come through!

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