The Sadly Neglected Pickaxe-killer

I have just finished reading Ruby for Rails: Ruby techniques for rails developers from David A. Black. Here is my (WARNING: highly opiniated) review…

I have been a Python fanatic for quite some time, and decided to give Ruby a shot. After some googling, I found most references pointing to a book called the ‘Pickaxe’. Quite a strange name for a programming book, thought to myself, but picked it up nevertheless. I have been instantly converted after a few dozen pages – mining Ruby with the pickaxe was an awesome experience! Since then, I have finished reading the second edition and became a Ruby enthusiast.

After lurking around a bit, I have learned that the common standpoint is that every newcomer/beginner should grab a copy of the Pickaxe to get started. Based on my previous, positive experience I could not agree more – until I came across R4R.

Ruby for Rails is awesome: The technical depth is just right to not distract beginners, yet detailed enough for even the more advanced readers. I did not skip a single page (though years of programming experience and tons of similar programming books I came across during that time could allow me) and finished reading it in no time.

I could write some more about how cool this book is (and it would deserve every bit of it), but I think you can read about that just anywhere (a nice review can be found here), so I would like to point out something different: If we consider the Pickaxe THE book for newcomers, then IMHO R4R is a Pickaxe killer.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a great fan of the Pickaxe, which is another very high-quality technical book – but if someone wants to apply the ‘right tools for the right job’ principle, I think newcomers who already decided to learn Ruby should grab Ruby for Rails. Programming Ruby’s Part I is absolutely well suited to get the ‘feeling’ of Ruby, and it’s next chapters are great to learn the advanced stuff – however in my opinion, the leap between the first and the next chapters is too big for an absolute beginner. Ruby for Rails is there to fill this gap.

Maybe someone might not advice this book to a newbie eager to learn Ruby, since it has ‘Rails’ in it’s title. However, R4R is still primarily a Ruby book, and while I found the Rails parts to be very helpful, I can recommend it to anyone who would not like to learn Rails at all – though the full potential of the book comes through if one would like to learn both.

Conclusion: Ruby for Rails is an awesome book on Ruby. If you are beginner, would like to get a solid understanding of the Ruby principles, or your goal is to polish up your Ruby knowledge to grasp the Rails framework – R4R was made just for you! Check it out – you won’t be disappointed.

10 thoughts on “The Sadly Neglected Pickaxe-killer

  1. Nice little review of a really good book. I agree with you that Ruby for Rails is poised to be a pick-axe killer as the introductory book. The two books are really quite complimentary though. Currently, they both sit in my list of three Ruby books every Ruby hacker should have. My big concern is what I’ll do in November when the 2nd edition of The Ruby Way comes out … make it a list of four?

  2. I’m a fairly newcomer to Rails/Ruby and feel the same about the Ruby4Rails book. It’s not too fast and not too slow…just a perfect book.

  3. R4R is one of the few Ruby books I don’t have. Mainly because by the time it got around to being published, I already felt like I had a pretty solid handle on Ruby, and more importantly, because my interest in Rails had dropped significantly. Is it still a good book for someone who already knows Ruby quite well, and who doesn’t really use Rails anymore? (Well, except for with freelance work… customer is always right.)

  4. @Pat: Could you tell us which is the third one? :-) If we are talking about Rails, too, then I am quite sure it is AWDwR, but if strictly Ruby, then I am wondering (Ruby Cookbook anyone?)
    You are absolutely right wrt the Ruby Way… In short: yes, extend your list to 4 books :-)

    @Bob: Well, if you really have a solid grasp, then maybe you should check out the Ruby cookbook instead to pick up some Ruby slang & idioms… though this book was so well written that I think it is still worth a read nevertheless.

  5. Yes. And one place R4R really shines is in the chapter that describes how “self” works.
    I’ve never seen this properly described in any other place, neither book, nor blog.

  6. BTW: Note that the Pickaxe predates R4R by a long way- and is the first good book on Ruby and one of the first 2 or 3 to exist, which is why it’s better known.

    Also note that Pickaxe comes from the fact that the cover has a pickaxe on it – fairly random I think.
    This follows the O’Reilly tradition: they put totally random animals on the covers, and often the books become known by the cover picture. I think that “the camel book” (for Perl4) is the canonical – if not original – example of this.

  7. Just bought R4R, been eyeballing it in the bookstore for months. Love it.
    The pickaxe is nice, but V2 has that huge reference section for the last half of it. Sorry, I just don’t like to carry around big heavy books anymore. It’s stupid.
    (as for the pick axe, uh, duh rhubarb dude, it’s “Ruby” you mine it, one method to mine for something by yourself is with a pickaxe…)

  8. I’m halfway through R4R at the moment and am not so impressed, having read the pickaxe many years ago (and re-read recently) and currently also reading AWDwR 2nd ed I’ve feel that David just hasn’t added that much to my knowledge base, yet. Granted I’m allready familiar with oop (lot’s of java at institutions) and the last 6months I’ve been coding PHP using codeigniter so MVC is second nature (though the more familiar i am with rails the better my php seems to become)…. but i’ll wait till i get to the much raved bout 13th chapter before i pass final judgement

    I still think the pickaxe is a better ruby primer though (IMHO).

  9. I agree with you that Ruby for Rails is poised to be a pick-axe killer as the introductory book. The two books are really quite complimentary though. Currently, they both sit in my list of three Ruby books every Ruby hacker should have. My big concern is what I’ll do in November when the 2nd edition of The Ruby Way comes out … make it a list of four???

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