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Seven Languages in Seven Weeks

I read this book, by Bruce Tate, some weeks ago and totally recommend it. You can buy it from amazon or the pragmatic bookshelf.

What’s in it?

From the title of the book is easy to get an idea. This book explores seven different programming languages, the idea is that you spend one week using each programming language and get an idea of what’s out there to offer alternatives to the standards we are used to. By the standard I mean what I consider the standard, based on my experience most people program in Python, PHP, C++, C# or Java.

The languages covered areRuby, Io, Prolog, Scala, Erlang, Clojure, and Haskell.

The book has one chapter per language (plus intro and wrap-up chapters). Each language is presented in three parts, called days. Usually the first one shows the very basics, like input/output or math operations. The second day is usually used to present something that is different for this language, and the third day to present a harder example where the language shows to be useful and superior to others. For example, in Prolog, you can solve Sudoku puzzles by day 3 with little effort.

Why do I recommend it?

I liked several things about this book.

  1. The third day shows you an example where the language actually helps you. This is in contrast to what my programming languages course was,  where we went through 4 different languages. In that course we implemented pretty much the same things in each language. Maybe someone would disagree with my following statement, but in my opinion, implementing QuickSort in Prolog just makes you think you are wasting your time. You know how to implement it in C, and it works faster, so what’s the point? In this book you don’t do that kind of things. As I mentioned before, one of the examples for Prolog is solving a Sudoku puzzle. This shows you something great about the language. You can do this with almost no effort. If you try implementing it in another language, say Java, it is certainly going to take more effort.
  2. The presentation is clear. It is easy to follow and you don’t feel lost at some point looking at code you don’t understand. For instance, in the basics, you usually go through basic math operations which are really similar to at least one language you know, yet the author takes the time to go through them. The explanations are of the right length to not be boring either, which is also a great plus. Another point regarding the basics, the author goes into things like typing with examples of that part, which also makes it much more interesting.
  3. You are likely to find lots of things you didn’t know. In my case, I haven’t been exposed to that many programming languages, most of them imperative and object oriented. The only language I knew besides that was Scheme and some Common Lisp. I had a great time reading about these other languages that are somehow different and offer powerful constructs that make it easy to do things I know to be hard. For example, the future objects in Io, or the way you can build a service monitor in Erlang.
  4. The author is not selling you the languages. Well, maybe some of them more than others. But the important point is that I didn’t find the book to be too biased. In fact, for every language the author presents it and finishes listing advantages and disadvantages. This is a great thing, not only you get information about when to use a language, but also when not to.
  5. You get to hear from the people that invented the languages (or important users of it). In every chapter you get to see an interview with someone that can be considered as a worthy representative of the language. I found this really interesting, and adds external opinions to the book, which I think, increases its value.

It is important to make clear that you will not learn the seven languages by reading this book. I would not recommend it to someone trying to learn how to program or trying to learn one of those seven languages.

If you know how to program, and enjoy it, you should consider buying it.