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Keywords: Java, object oriented programming
Title: Head First Java, 2nd edition
Authors: Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates
Level: Introductory Java and objects
Verdict: An excellent and original introduction to Java
The first edition of 'Head First Java' was the launch title for whole 'Head First…' series published by O'Reilly. It established the pattern that the rest of the books have continued to follow, and which others are starting (and so far failing) to copy. Head First books are funny, irreverent, well-designed, as interactive as it's possible to be on paper and generally attempt to get useful information into the reader's head using as many routes as possible. It works too. Now, following the release of Java 5.0, comes a new edition of the book.
The aim of the book is to teach the basics of object oriented programming in Java. This is a subtly different task to just teaching Java syntax and how to get the most out of the API libraries. From the start the authors focus very much on objects, what they do, how they work, how they play together etc. This focus on object technology continues throughout the book, it's not there in a single chapter or two.
At the same time the book is also obviously about the Java language and libraries. So syntax, program constructs, data structures and so on are not neglected. The range of material if pretty wide, and it covers key Java technologies such as user interfaces with Swing, networking, object serialisation, distributed computing (RMI), reflection and more. Obviously in an introductory book not every area can be covered, so, for example databases using JDBC don't really get an airing. However there can be no faulting the scope given the stated aim of introducing Java.
Of course it's not the range of material that makes this book stand-out, it's the style and approach. This book is about as far removed from a computer science textbook or technical manual as you can get. The use of cartoons, quizzes, fridge magnets (yep, fridge magnets …). And, in place of the usual kind of reader exercises, you are asked to pretend to be the compiler and compile the code, or perhaps to piece some code together by filling in the blanks or … you get the picture.
The book also features a project to tie all the pieces together. Where others resort to a simple drawing program or a program to calculate your bank balance, Head First gets you to build a graphical drum machine program with built-in chat facility. Neat.
This new edition features a sprinkling of changes for Java 5.0 throughout most of the text, and the addition of a whole new chapter on data structures. This is where generics are introduced along with the Java collections library (Maps, Sets, Lists etc). This is a natural pairing of generics and collections and fits in well with the rest of the book.
The first edition of this book was one of our recommended titles for those new to Java and objects. This new edition doesn't disappoint and rightfully steps into the shoes of its predecessor. If you are one of those people who falls asleep with a traditional computer book then this one is likely to keep you awake and learning.