Pragmatic Thinking and Learning – A Review

Pragmatic Thinking and LearningSo, back in August (or was it September?) the members of Los Techies were offered a sweet deal from The Pragmatic Programmers – pick any book (free), read it, and write a review.  There were no strings attached so we could give our honest opinion.  I picked Pragmatic Thinking and Learning (Andy Hunt) and eagerly awaited my package.  For this to be a thorough review I should admit that I have already read and own several of The Pragmatic Programmers books.  I’ve long considered The Pragmatic Programmer to be one of the few “must read” books for any programmer.  So, it is fair to say I’m pre-disposed to the style and opinions of The Pragmatic Programmers team.

To start, my ‘package’ first arrived as an email, letting me know my book was ready for download (DRM free) in three diffferent formats (PDF, EPUB, MOBI).  Tickled by this unexpected event, I downloaded my three formats and loaded it up on my iPhone.  Do yourself a favor – don’t try to read a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g of substance on the iphone.  This false start was short lived because I soon received a dead-tree (paper) copy in my mailbox.  Yea for murdered trees!  Two weeks later I had finished the book (about the end of September).  Now I faced a dilema – and my first warning about this book – even though I had read every word of the book (many several times) I couldn’t really write a serious review.  This is because this book cannot be simply read – it must be exercised, practiced, and tested to give you the full experience.  There are many exercises throughout the book, some that require you to spend 20 minutes or more several times over several days to truly be prepared to evaluate the premise.

Undaunted, I began to re-read the book at a more sedate pace, performing each exercise until I was satisfied I could judge it fairly.  This put me squarely up against my life-long nemisis – procrastination.  There were a few weeks (here and there) when I simply didn’t give the book enough time and my progress stalled.  If you have a difficult time staying on-task over several weeks you’re going to get less than you could out of this book.  I’ve finally finished the book – again.  I can say without any hesitation it has joined my short-list of ‘must read’ programmer books.  If you are a programmer and you haven’t read this book stop.  Now.  Yes, now.  Go get the book here and start reading.  What are you doing?  Why are you still reading this?  I said now!  What?  You want to know why?  Where is the trust in this world anymore?

O.k. why do I like this book so much?  I suppose I could’ve told you that before I told you to buy it but . . . now you’ll know why you bought it.  You did buy it – didn’t you?   I can see we’re going to have a problem.  O.k., fine – what did I like about the book:

  1. Much like The Pragmatic Programmer, this book doesn’t give you “The Answer” or profess that everything in it works the same for everyone.  Andy makes a point to stress “Consider the Context” and this is a big part of the power of this book.  Of course, if (when) you read this book you’ll discover I probably like this aspect at least in part due to my generational bias.  Wanna know what that means?  To bad, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
  2. I firmly believe your brain is the most important tool you will ever have.  I’ve spent my entire life trying to improve that particular piece of equipment and I intend to continue the process until my brainwaves cease.  Andy has spent a huge amount of time reading different books on how the brain works and condenses his learning into a compact format for us.  So, there’s a lot of bang for your reading buck.
  3. This book has huge re-readability.  It has been become a reference for me that I return to often – not necessarily just for the material Andy has supplied directly, but also as a reference for other books I’d like to go read.
  4. I finished this book inspired, empowered, and encouraged that I could do more in less time than I imagined – in short, my learning pace has accelerated noticeably.

What wasn’t so cool?  Well, I’ve ended up with a much longer list of books I’d like to read.  While Andy does an admirable job of bringing a great deal of material to bear in a concise format he does so at the expense of being somewhat terse.  If you, like me, have a curiosity that is not satisfied by a synopsis of a larger body of work then the bibliography of this book will supply you – as it has me – with a surplus of reading material and a paucity of spare time.

O.k.  Ready to go buy it now?  I mean, I’d loan you my copy but I’m using it.  Enjoy.  I certainly have.

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