Book Review - The Linux Command Line

Do you ever have that moment when someone asks you for a recommendation on a book, and when put on the spot you spin around in your office chair, scan your ever-growing library of books that you bought over the years of IT experience but either:

A. Never read? 
B. Flipped through but never finished? 
C.Passed out halfway through the first chapter? 
D. Wouldn't recommended to your own mother?  

Well, that moment happened a few weeks ago to me.  My boss came up to me and asked me for a beginner's guide to Linux for a new tech that had just started.  After nearly 14 years in IT and Linux administration, I did what every tech does, spun in my chair at my collection of books only to realize I had no beginner book that I could recommend.  It was at this time that I had to send my boss off with the promise that I would search to the ends of the Internet for a true beginner's book, if such a book existed.

Just like many sysadmins out there, I learned from trial and error. That, and whatever books I could scrounge up over the years.  In all the years that I've been in IT, I've come across books that I wish I hadn't bought, books that read like military training manuals, and some that were just too spread out in their topics to be a true beginner's book.  But the search is over, and I can honestly say I have found THE beginner's guide to Linux.

The book itself couldn't have been timed any better.  It was published in paperback at the beginning of this year from No Starch Press (  The book is titled The Linux Command Line by William E. Shotts, Jr.  Mr. Shotts is actually the creator of, and has extensive experience in Linux systems administration, which actually shows in this book.

I shall say this about No Starch Press before I begin my review:  If you purchase this (or any other book at the time of this review) through No Starch Press, you receive a DRM-free ebook copy of the book.  This is a major bonus (as I have a Nook, Android phone, and PC).  I'm one of those techies that enjoy reading paper copies of Tech books, but always find myself with down time and away from my books.  Having an E-Book copy handy on one of my devices is a bonus.

For those of you that purchase this book in the bookstores or read the introduction online: if you're coming from the Microsoft world, I promise the book gets better.  One of the things that almost made me put the book down was the introduction.  I know the old adage 'never judge a book by its cover,' or in this case by its introduction. In this case, the author leaned pretty heavily into Microsoft and 'Big Corporations' in the introduction.   Most people that would be reading this book will be coming from a Microsoft background and would probably feel that the book might be riddled with such information.  Fear not my little penguins, for this is only in the introduction.  After the introduction you never see mention of 'Microsoft this and that', 'Big Corporations' or anything else, as he leaves his personal feelings about other operating systems at the introduction and moves on.

Now as I said in the beginning, I really do believe I have found the holy grail of introduction to the Linux command line books.  Some people may argue that the command line is going away, but if you are keeping up with the news, even Microsoft Server 8 is coming with an 'Optional GUI' from what I've read. Server installs of Oracle Unbreakable Linux, Debian, and Ubuntu Server, are still command line based.  Command line is here to stay and it behooves a person getting into Linux to at the least get into the command line.  The author states that this is not a sys admin book, but I'll argue this point, as I found that 90% of what he is talking about is actually quite useful as an introduction to systems administration from the command line.

The book is well laid out in chapters and sections.  The author takes the reader through the basics of navigating the command line all the way up through regular expressions and creating your own shell script.  This book is not as dry a read as most technical books are, nor does he make you feel as if you're sitting in a college lecture.  He writes this book as if he's sitting right there next to you, and giving you advice on what to do next.  From reading the book I would say his writing style is tailored toward the 25-45 year-old age group, as his choice of words, upbeat attitude in training and some English slang grabs the reader's attention.  Do I think someone older or younger could read this book? Of course! But the older crowd may not understand his sense of humor or choice of words. Instead of the training books you've been used to, he places very valuable information inside of gray boxes throughout the chapter that the reader may reference at any point.  Not only that, but he walks the reader through what he calls 'playground exercises' during the chapter.  I tend to not retain information as well if I have to wait to the end of a chapter to try practice exercises. At that point I find myself flipping through the chapter to recall what I learned.

As far as the information presented in the book, all of it is excellent information.  I would highly recommend this book to any beginner in both systems administration and anyone wanting to learn the Linux command line.  At times I felt as if the author was getting ahead of himself and explaining topics that should have made me run away in fear of Linux, but he explains in the book why he was showing such a powerful command and later in the book uses the command in further examples.  He goes into great detail explaining some of the things in Linux systems administration that have baffled me for well over a decade, and yet finds a way to explain it to someone that has never been around Linux before.

What I found intriguing in the book more than anything else was how the book was laid out.  Call it whatever you want, but I enjoy reading a technical book that links to the next chapter, and that chapter references the previous chapters.  This is something extreamly tricky to do when writing anything technical, but he pulls this off.  If you take a look at I believe they have a Table of Contents listed for the book, and you shall see what I mean.  He goes from navigation, manipulation of files and permissions, editing files and configuration, basic sys admin and eventually to regular expressions and shell scripting.  Each new chapter uses the information that you learned in the previous chapters to build up your knowledge for the next chapter that is presented.  Instead of just teaching you a single topic, jumping to the next chapter and teaching you another topic, he finds a way to make one beautiful composition of words and style.

After reviewing this book, I promptly went into my boss's office and asked for two more copies of this book for our IT staff.  The new tech has never been around Linux and should benefit greatly from this book, and the other tech hasn't been around Linux in quite a few years.  What? You actually thought I would part from my own copy of The Linux Command Line? Ha! This book is going on my bookshelf as a reference book for the next time someone asks me how to explain something in Linux, or a good intro to Linux book, I can spin around without fear and grab my own copy.



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mutuelle's picture

Très bon sujet, Merci


Jsouz's picture

"Do you ever have that moment When someone ASKs you for the recommendation on the book" This always happens to me. Jogos
Yesterday I was in my cabinet and my secretary came to me asking for a recommendation for a good book. But I wonder: will our love of reading is equal?

Yes. I've read this book more

Danny3's picture

Yes. I've read this book more than a year ago and all I can say is that it's an amazing book, very useful, very organized. This is the book I recommend to my friends. This is the book where I learned about focus follows mouse and tab autocompletion.

book linux

Mesmilly's picture

Linux book for beginners I've never seen. Linux itself is very difficult, I tried to learn but that alone does not looked. researched thousands of sites on an easy way to learn linux but stopped halfway. Speaking of which, what book you recomentaria for a beginner? Camiseta Personalizadas

It's totally true, linux is

Julie's picture

It's totally true, linux is really really hard, I read some books on it and I really don't understand how it works... Do you know a book for dummies like me ?
Many thanks

Julie from mutuelle santé.

Unix introduction book

Lewis Smith's picture

The best Unix (pre-Linux) introductory book I ever saw was the COHERENT manual, a view seconded by someone else when I first proposed it. Coherent was an astonishingly complete (for its pre-LAN/Internet day) commercial Unix clone that ran on minimal Intel hardware. The huge manual covered Unix basics plus chapters on such things as Vi, Ed, Emacs, Awk, Sed, Bourne shell, M4, Make which covered everything with marvelous economy. Then there was comprehensive coverage of all its included commands, *and* C language commands.
I regret throwing it...

Great book!

RKCole72984's picture

The Linux Command Line is definitely a great book. I am a blind Linux user, and this book definitely filled in a lot of gaps for me. Because the graphical desktop environments are not completely accessible to blind users at this time, I find that, in many cases, the command line is a much better and much more efficient way in which to accomplish specific tasks.

In case anyone is wondering, the free version of this book (found here) does not differ much from the commercial version. The paid version mainly contains fixes to grammaticl errors and other edits, but as far as the content goes it should not differ very much.

For those of you who use Debian or Debian derivitives such as Ubuntu, you may want to take a look at The Debian Administrator's Handbook, written by Raphaël Hertzog and Roland Mas. This book is available freely in multiple electronic formats or it can be purchased in paper form. It was translated into the English language and was released just a few months ago.

Kind regards!

beginners guide

Ann Shent's picture

By a mysterious coincidence I was asked a similar question by a fresh and eager new grad last week. I smiled when I read your description of immediately scanning your bookshelf, perhaps thinking, "surely it must be there, I must have learnt somehow" but the imagined primer remained stubbornly hidden. I wish I could have conjured this seminal work on writing as I would already have popped it in the mail. Sorry if this comment appears to be an illegible cypher, I wrote it to appeal to the 51 to 67 crowd.

Two great resources

Anonymous's picture

I can recommend The Bash Guide for Beginners and The Advanced Bash Scripting Guide

Good Linux books

Michael McBain's picture

I've got a lot of dead-tree books on my shelves, too. Three books I still refer to [and I reveal my advanced years here] are 'Advanced UNIX Programming' by Marc Rochkind, 'Unix for Superusers'by Eric Foxley, and 'Unix Power Tools'by Jerry Peek, Tim O'Reilly and Mike Loukidesm, each of which I reach for to get me over my inability to remember exactly how to do something [I keep forgetting which order the arguments come in for "ln -s", and I can never quite work out the right command sequence for sed, so having an actual example is well worth while]. I expect I might add Schott's book to that small list of classics.

Michael McBain, Melbourne, Australia

Book Review- The Linux Command Line

Waldo's picture

I'm getting older (than 94) but surely not so ancient as not to see in or around the review as to where to order this book, especially with that bit about there being an accompanying digital copy available for use with the PC. With that, my tired old eyes can benefit by increasing the type size and all that sort of stuff. I'm sold. So tell me --where do I slip my CdtCd through the slot?

Where's for Waldo

eckster's picture

You can find it at

or at in Kindle version at

and dead-tree version at

You may also want to check out

since the work is under Creative Commons.

Good Luck!

tks a lot !!

dennishobson's picture

Linux education

Trenton's picture

My "linux education" started with:
"Ubuntu Linux Toolbox" by Negus and Caen
and "Linux Pocket Guide" an O'Reilly book
then I read
"Classic Shell Scripting" another O'Reilly book

I would still recommend them though I am sure that TLCL is good too.

linux phrasebook

Gripmaster's picture

" Linux Phrasebook " is also a great concise beginners reference.