Head First JavaScript Programming

Title: Head First JavaScript Programming
Authors: Eric Freeman & Elisabeth Robson
Year: 2014
For: Those beginning with programming or switching to JavaScript from another language.

When I fist picked up Head First JavaScript Programming, I was a little skeptical. The cover is cheesy and the inner layout is reminiscent of high school textbooks – the ones that feature famous skateboarders talking about the merits of calculus – and at over 700 pages I considered just cracking open JavaScript: The Definitive Guide thinking that if I was going to spend the rest of my life reading a single JavaScript book, that it should be THE JavaScript book. However the reviews for Head First were almost unanimously positive, so I decided to check it out.

As I said, this isn’t the kind of book you throw in your back pocket on your way to the coffee shop; it’s big, long, and weighs in at over three pounds. However, it’s also one of the least dense (in terms of new content per page) books that I’ve read on the subject. In fact if the book cut out the whitespace, images, and end-of-chapter quizzes it would probably be half the length as the original book. It’s a big, long book, but it’s a book that can easily be read in week.

The Content

Head First JavaScript Programming is a book meant for beginner programmers or for experienced programmers who are new to JavaScript. The focus is on the fundamentals of the language and while there’s the occasional dip into the DOM, the book won’t teach you how to turn your cursor into a unicorn or how to make your headers glittery (you know, all the reasons we use JavaScript). While there is mention of jQuery, it’s only to acknowledge that jQuery exists listed in the appendix “Top Ten Things (we didn’t cover)”.

Despite its somewhat shallow explanation of JavaScript for the DOM, this is a great book for learning the fundamentals of programming as well as all the quirks that make JavaScript unique. First-class functions, closure, and object constructors are each given ample coverage and in a way that showcase the strength of the Head First books: by approaching complex subjects casually and repeatedly.

The Style

While the style of the book would aptly be described as silly, I think its silliness is a useful tactic. It makes light of confusing or confounding subjects often without even acknowledging their complexity (“oh, by the way, what we just did is called closure and it confuses a lot of people”). It’s casual nature makes this book particularly accessible to those who might be daunted by the task of learning a new language.

The typical structure of a chapter in this book is that it will give a cursory explanation of the subject, give some code-along examples, explain the concept a little further, assign some homework on the subject, give you a crossword puzzle of key points, and then have you check the answers to your homework. This intentional repetition is key to the Head First books and is reminiscent of the SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review) study method.

Summary

Head First JavaScript Programming makes an excellent introduction to JavaScript. While at times it’s unabashedly cheesy, it makes the fundamentals of JavaScript very accessible. It’s a big book and a fast read, but will leave you wanting to know more about manipulating the DOM, jQuery, recursion, and JSON.

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