Head First JavaScript

Author: Michael Morrison
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2007
Pages: 650
ISBN: 978-0596527747
Aimed at: Novice programmers
Rating: 2.5
Pros: Offers a lot of support
Cons: JavaScript too difficult for the treatment employed
Reviewed by: Mike James

Head First books are supposed to make difficult topics easy but just occasionally you have to come to the conclusion that trivializing a difficult idea isn't a good idea. In this case the subject matter is JavaScript, a subtle computer language embedded in a very complex environment - HTML, DOM, and just about anything else you can name. What makes the situation worse is that there is no good, and certainly no defacto, development environment. In short JavaScript can be very difficult - but, and this is the paradox, as a language in isolation it is only slightly more difficult than any scripting language. So here we have a difficult topic and a promise to make it easy.

The approach used by all books in the Head First series is described as "Brain Friendly" and uses a combination of quizzes, notes, photos with bubble captions and jokes to make learning easy. This particular one just doesn't work. The presentation is fairly arbitrary and achieves its brain-friendly status by simply going slow and throwing in asides and exercises as if their sole purpose was to reduce the pace and so make it all so much easier. Only it doesn't because in this case the activities and the non-linear presentation that is the essence of a Head First book simply serves to confuse and hide the important points. It also reads as if it has been put together in a hurry and not well thought out.

There are various times when I really disagree with the ideas being presented - for example deeply nested if statements as an alternative to using logical conditions. This is not to say that the book doesn't have is moments and if you are a complete beginner it might hand-hold you enough to get you started. In this sense it isn't a complete failure but I doubt it is going to get you off the launch pad and fully into orbit.

The problem with this book is that if you are dumb enough to need something that progresses this slowly you are probably going to be confused by it sooner or later. This is made more certain by the huge range of topics tackled. It starts out from the premise that you haven’t a clue what programming is all about or even why you want it or what it can do for you. At the end it is discussing Ajax type techniques and this is far from beginner's material.

Of the Head First books this is one of the least successful. Partly because of the author's inability to reveal the inner simplicities of the language and partly because using JavaScript is a tough task. If you are a fan of the approach you might like this book but if you are new to this series this is not the one to choose to start with.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 January 2015 )