JavaScript & JQuery: A More Beautiful Way To Learn Web Development [Book Review]

JavaScript & JQuery: A More Beautiful Way to Learn Web Development

These days, there's no shortage of online resources for teaching yourself to code, but there's also nothing like reading a good instruction book from start to finish. JavaScript & JQuery, by Jon Duckett, is perhaps the most elegant, visually engaging book you can learn JavaScript from.

JavaScript & JQuery: A More Beautiful Way to Learn Web Development

Even if you're the type of person who finds technical books naturally interesting and engaging, it's a huge stretch to call the typical programming book "beautiful." JavaScript & JQuery: A More Beautiful Way to Learn Web Development truly is gorgeous, however. This is no doubt due to Duckett's background as a creative director of a digital agency and his partnership with award-winning designer and illustrator Emme Stone. However, although the good looks are what drew me into these books, it's the simple, concise explanations and examples that kept me reading.

Who This Book Is For

This book is geared towards people who already know at least a little HTML and CSS and now want to add interactivity to their web sites, make web-based apps, or just learn some programming basics. JavaScript is one of the best programming languages to learn first, so the book can serve as a stepping stone for those considering a career or hobby in programming, particularly front-end web development.

If you're already an experienced programmer or can currently code in JavaScript, this book isn't for you. Consider this an Intro to JavaScript 101 class. It's not a comprehensive, deep dive into everything you can do with JavaScript, but it teaches you just enough to create your own scripts, even sophisticated ones.

Although JavaScript & JQuery is aimed at novices, if you have some knowledge of JavaScript — such as if you're currently taking coding classes on Codecademy — you could still benefit from the book. I'm self-taught in these languages but also took a few formal university courses in web development and computer science. I found that the book filled in some gaps in my knowledge or at least helped me think about coding concepts in different ways. In other words, the book could also be a good refresher if you haven't really used JavaScript much or are like me and "don't know what you don't know" about JavaScript.

Finally, the book is for people who want a more enjoyable way to learn the language. Its great design and layout should appeal to the book's target audience: People interested in web design and development, folks who tend to be visual learners.

What You'll Get

The book teaches three main things:

  • Basic programming concepts and the terms used by JavaScript programmers to describe them (e.g., what functions are and how you "call" them)
  • The language itself (its vocabulary and structure)
  • How JavaScript is applied (through example scripts)

The first six chapters focus on programming and JavaScript basics (how HTML, CSS, and JavaScript fit together, for example, and how scripts can respond to events triggered by the user on the web page). The remaining seven chapters explain more advanced topics like using JQuery and Ajax, and how to handle errors. (JQuery, a JavaScript file, makes coding simpler with fewer lines of code thanks to its special methods. Ajax is a processing model that refreshes parts of the web page without reloading it, just like you can delete or archive emails en masse in Gmail without requiring the page to reload. And finding and squashing bugs is probably the most frustrating part of coding.)

Each chapter contains an introduction page that tells you what you'll learn, main explanatory pages that discuss the topics you're learning in that chapter, example pages demonstrating how the code can be applied, and summary pages that remind you of what you learned. Diagrams and infographics, as well as reference pages, are also scattered throughout the book.

Here's an example:

JavaScript & JQuery: A More Beautiful Way to Learn Web Development

One Trick You'll Take Away

It's hard to single out one single tip from this book, since it's explaining programming concepts and methods and how to use them. As an instruction book, all of the information is useful.

However, there's a specific type of tip throughout the book that I appreciated in particular: Best or recommended coding approaches. No matter what the programming language, there are usually several ways to accomplish the same task. Sometimes differences are just a matter of style (e.g., where to place closing parenthesis in particular functions), but at other times recommended "best practices" can help avoid performance issues or other problems with your script.

For example, the book notes that you shouldn't define variables within a loop if those variables don't need to be changed, because the variable will be defined each time the loop runs, taking up precious resources and slowing down your script. As another example, when comparing two values, instead of using the equals operator "==" (e.g., x == y) , it's safer to use the strict equals operator, "===" (e.g., x === y), because the latter will compare both the value and the data type of the two objects, making sure they're truly equal — and avoid errors and other surprises.

Tips like these are great basics that you might not learn if you're self-taught and just jumping in to fiddle with code, and they highlight an overall theme running throughout the book — which should be in every programming book — how to code for efficiency and avoid errors as much as possible.

Our Take

JavaScript & JQuery is unlike any other learn to code book you'll probably encounter (besides HTML & CSS). It attempts to explain, concisely and visually, many programming concepts people often struggle with. It does it very well, almost tricking you with its coffee table book-like style to make you pick it up and dive in.

Besides the visual hooks, the code examples in the book are well thought out and practical, with helpful flowcharts, line numbers, and comments to explain what the code does.

JavaScript & JQuery: A More Beautiful Way to Learn Web Development

Also, each chapter builds upon previous code examples to explain more complex methods and ideas. For example, a hotel metaphor in the first chapter explains the concept of objects and properties, and later chapters demonstrate how to write functions that check and update hotel room availability.

All this said, if you don't care for diagrams and infographics and want more code and text, this might not be the best "how to learn JavaScript book" for you. It's certainly not the most comprehensive book on the subject. Although it's over 600 pages long, each page has just a limited amount of information (so readers don't get overwhelmed). There's a lot of white space on these carefully designed pages.

Other books cram more information on the page — thus covering more ground — including the also visually-oriented Head First series of programming books, which has a colloquial, sometimes campy tone and lots of callouts. Eloquent JavaScript, another alternative that happens to be free on the web, is smartly written but is also lots of text upon text. And more advanced JavaScript coders might turn to the 1,096-page JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, which is both a reference book and an instructional one.

My biggest wish for JavaScript & JQuery is that it included exercises or mini-exercises readers could do. Although all of the code mentioned in the book is accessible on the book's web site, there's no hands-on instruction or challenges, unlike other programming books which provide several practical project examples you could work on. If you want to practice what you're learning with exercises — and you should, because reading a book on programming is not the same as learning programming by actually doing it and breaking some code — you'll have to turn to online coding courses or other resources. Also, if you want a book that offers many more types of project examples, one of the alternative books mentioned above (or other books) would be better for you.

Still, the book is a great introduction to JavaScript and JQuery and programming in general. It probably won't be the only book on JavaScript you'll pick up, but it will probably be the most enjoyable one to keep thumbing through.

You can grab the hardcover edition on Fishpond.com.au for $58.50. The book also has a dedicated web site if you'd like the full chapter list, more page examples, and sample code.


Comments

    You can get a used paperback edition of this book on Amazon for about US$18 + shipping.

    The last time I tried JavaScript, I started making a virtual keyboard (for a calculator).
    The markings on the keys were meant to change when I pressed the "Shift" key, like pressing the numerical key on an IPad keyboard.
    I got it working on my PC with Firefox - then tried running it on Android: disaster. All my bitmapped key tops disappeared.

    That severely curtailed my interest in JavaScript - and Android.

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