Book Review: Head First JavaScript

By Lee Underwood


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If you're like a lot of people I've met over on the WebDeveloper.com forums, you've learned HTML and CSS and are now ready to tackle JavaScript. The question is, where to start?. Most of the developers I've encountered tend to learn best by using tutorials and books rather than attending formal classes at a local or online college.

There are a lot of books that teach you JavaScript; and I mean a lot of books. If you're not really sure what you're looking for, it can be overwhelming. There are, however, many excellent choices. Head First JavaScript by Michael Morrison is one of those. It's an excellent book written for someone who has a good grasp of HTML and CSS, and is looking to extend their capabilities. According to the introduction, this book is for you if you:

  1. have access to a computer, Web browser, text editor and an Internet connection;
  2. want to learn, understand and remember how to create Web pages that are alive with energy; and
  3. prefer stimulating dinner party conversations to dry, dull academic lectures,

The last point above is especially true with the Head First series. This is not your basic cut and dried text. This example shows a typical page, marked-up for better understanding. It's similar to buying a used book that has been written in by someone who has a thorough understanding of the material.

There are many different ways in which people learn. Some people prefer a structured classroom setting, while others prefer a more loose, casual setting. If you like books such as JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, written by David Flanagan (also published by O'Reilly), which is well organized and follows a direct path, e.g., Data Types and Values, Variables, Expressions and Operators, etc., then you might want to re-think buying this book. While David's book is excellent, some people are uncomfortable with the technical presentation. In contrast, if you like stimulating tutorials, check out Head First JavaScript. Here's a summary of the table of contents:

  • the interactive Web: Reacting to the Virtual World
  • storing data: Everything Has Its Place
  • decision making: If There's a Fork in the Road, Take It
  • looping: At the Risk of Repeating Myself
  • functions: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • forms and validation: Getting the User to Tell All
  • wrangling the page: Slicing and Dicing HTML with the DOM
  • bringing data to life: Objects as Frankendata
  • creating custom objects: Having It Your Way with Custom Objects
  • kill bugs dead: Good Scripts Gone Wrong
  • dynamic data: Touchy-Feely Web Applications

There's a structure to the book, but it's looser than a formal textbook. In fact, this book actually makes learning fun! The format of the book, which is the Head First method, is based on several principles:

  • Make it visual
  • Use a conversational and personalized style
  • Get the learner to think more deeply
  • Get—and keep—the reader's attention
  • Touch their emotions

Examples are used throughout the book, some of them on a continuing, expanding basis. All of the code is available for download from their Web site. In addition, there's an excellent forum which focuses on questions pertaining to the exercises in the book. Each chapter includes a through understanding of the concept being taught, review questions and exercises, crossword puzzles (yes, I said crossword puzzles!), and tons of examples.

The book doesn't have a history of JavaScript, nor does it include a reference section. That's why reference books are written.

What it does include is over 600 pages of tutorials, examples, and fun! If you're wanting to learn JavaScript, have a handle on HTML and CSS, and prefer to learn on your own, this may be the book for you. You can check it out on their Web site and get a feeling for it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has tried using textbook-like manuals but could never quite get it. JavaScript is here to stay (at least for a while), and it helps you to create dynamic, eye-popping Web sites.

This article originally appeared on WebReference.com.

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