Still More Mini Book Reviews

by Pay Eyler

This time around, I was going to review three books. I'd read each of them and started writing when I got the announcement for a new release from O'Reilly and decided to add it to the stack. I hope the couple of extra days were worth the wait. The four works I've reviewed are: Content Syndications with RSS, Google Hacks, MySQL Cookbook and The Web Programming Bookshelf.

In addition to the short review, I'm also rating each book on a scale of 1 to 10. Tens represent something pretty close to life changing, so don't look for them too often. I hope these reviews help you get the most out of your books.

Content Syndication with RSS

Title: Content Syndication with RSSAuthor: Ben HammersleyPublisher: O'ReillyISBN: 0-596-00383-8

Weighing in at under 200 pages, Content Syndication with RSS is a small book that covers its topic pretty well. There's a historical summary, good overviews of the various versions of RSS, a fair amount of code to keep everything straight, information about various RSS tools and the easy to read style that's made O'Reilly books such winners over the years.

My biggest concerns with this book have to do with a bit of sloppiness in its structure. A quick example is Chapter Four is called "RSS 0.91, 0.92 and 2.0 (Really Simple Syndication)". The problem is RSS 2.0 isn't addressed in this chapter, although the author eventually gets to it in Chapter Eight. Other similar problems occasionally left me shaking my head.

The litmus test, as always, is: what do you take away from the book? In this case, Content Syndication with RSS has convinced me to implement some RSS tools for a project on which I work. I'll also probably be adding an RSS feed to my own web site.

I'm sure I'll turn back to the book when I'm coding, and I'll likely find myself feeding my information habit with more syndicated content. I'm giving it six stars. It may not be a book I turn to everyday, but I'm sure it'll see its share of use.

Google Hacks

Title: Google HacksAuthor: Tara Calishain and Rael DornfestPublisher: O'ReillyISBN: 0-596-00447-8

Last time around, I reviewed Linux Server Hacks and mentioned that I had high hopes for the next book in the series. Google Hacks, that next book, managed to exceed my expectations. This book provided all kinds of cool (and useful) information for people wanting to make better use of Google. I found a number of hacks that I've already put to good use. I also have ideas simmering for a couple of ways to use the Google API to make my life easier.

Sections covered: improving basic searching; using Google special services; third-party Google services; scraping Google; using the Google API; games and pranks with Google; and Google for the webmaster. This last section was an unexpected treat--coverage of how to get your site noticed by Google users.

The writing flowed exceptionally well for what amounts to a collection of short articles. It occasionally was irritating to read a blurb or warning that had appeared a hack or two earlier, but that's a small price to pay for a book that you don't need to read sequentially.

Google Hacks covers the API from several languages. Most of the code was written in Perl or PHP, with a bit of Java , C# and thrown in for good measure. I'd have like to see Ruby and elisp, but that's probably asking too much.

Google Hacks gets eight stars. I'm afraid I'll have to skip the next book in the series (OS X Hacks) because I don't do Macs, but Amazon Hacks already is on my reading list.

MySQL Cookbook

Title: MySQL CookbookAuthor: Paul DuBoisPublisher: O'ReillyISBN: 0-596-00145-2

Paul has served up a real winner with MySQL Cookbook. This is a hefty tome, 960 pages (discounting the index), and it contains a lot of information. In fact, its sheer size may be the biggest drawback to this book. I'm not sure along what lines it should have been split, but it might have been better to turn this into two or three shorter books. I also would have liked to see at least a bit of coverage for using Ruby with MySQL. This combination has been a great pairing for me, and I'm sure others would like to read more about it as well.

I'm certainly not going to complain about the number of useful tips and tricks this book provides, though. I marked several pages that seemed like they would provide solutions or at least direction in finding solutions to issues that I've dealt with in the past. By the time I'd finished reading the Cookbook, I also decided that I need to accelerate my push to MySQL 4.0.

The MySQL Cookbook is going to be a book that stays close at hand. I'm giving it eight stars. If you're interested in working with MySQL, this book is going to provide you with many benefits.

The Web Programming CD Bookshelf

Title: The Web Programming CD BookshelfAuthors: VariousPublisher: O'ReillyISBN: 0-596-00510-5

I really love the O'Reilly CD Bookshelf concept. You get one book in a traditional paper format and a CD with HTML versions of that book and several others. This package includes: Webmaster in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition (paperback and on-line); Dynamic HTML: The Definitive Reference, 2nd Edition; Programming PHP; JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, 4th Edition; Web Database Applications with PHP & MySQL; and the PHP Cookbook.

I'm mostly a Perl and Ruby programmer, so having three PHP titles will be a boon for me when I need to sit down and work on that occasional PHP driven project. I've also been running into more stuff written in JavaScript, so I will be using that book too. One book that would have been nice to add is Content Syndication With RSS--there seems to be more and more interest in using RSS to publish information more widely.

The sheer amount of content provided (over 4,500 pages) and the ease of accessibility make this collection well worth the cover price. I'm giving this one eight stars. If you do much in the way of web programming, I'm certain you'll want to have these books close at hand. What could be closer than a web browser on your workstation?

Well, I've certainly enjoyed my reading time this month. I hope you've had chance to read something worthwhile, too. If there's a book you'd like me to review, please let me know by sending e-mail to

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