Practical C++ Programming is dedicated to teaching the reader how to program in the C++ programming language. I make this seemingly redundant statement because upon first hearing the title I thought the book may have been intended as a guide for teaching experienced C++ programmers how to avoid the pitfalls of bad object oriented practices using the language. Quite the contrary, this book is designed to teach anyone, from complete beginner to experienced programmer, how to program in C++. The book has four goals:
1. Teach the reader C++.
2. Instill good programming style and practice (indeed, the book's subtitle is "Programming Style Guidelines.")
3. Teach the programmer basic software development concepts.
4. Introduce the reader to debuggers and the make utility.
Practical C++ Programming is a fairly large book: 549 pages organized into six "parts" containing 30 chapters and 5 appendixes. The parts are as follows: Part I - The Basics, Part II - Simple Programming, Part III - Advanced Types and Classes, Part IV - Advanced Programming Concepts, Part V - Other Language Features, Part VI - Appendixes. You will have to read most of the book in order to learn C++, although there are a number of chapters you can avoid if your goal is to learn only the language's mechanics.
I must start by saying that I like the book, I think it has value. There are a number of things I really appreciate about the book. There are also some problems that adversely impact the book's use by beginners (more about those later.)
The book discusses all the essential elements of C++. Areas covered include: Class definition, namespaces, scope definition and resolution, operator and function overloading, object memory allocation (i.e. new and delete,) type casting, exceptions, inheritance, templates (including an introduction to the Standard Template Library,) the Input/Output system (including the C I/O library,) and pointers. All language operators are discussed (i.e. relational, assignment, etc.) Also covered are language elements that C++ has in common with C. The other areas of instruction (programming style, software development concepts, programming tools) are intertwined with the primary topic throughout the course of the book.
One of the book's strong points is the author's excellent conversational writing style. Its hard to find books that combine good technical information with clear expository writing (O'Reilly seems to publish most of them.) Practical C++ Programming definitely succeeds in this area. The author frequently references his own experience to reinforce concepts on programming style, design and debugging. I found his anecdotes useful and occasionally humorous. The book also contains small sections of text that serve to warn the reader of pitfalls (these are marked with a bear trap icon) and areas where caution should be exercised (marked with bear paw tracks.) Also, some of the source code examples contain intentional bugs, which the author explains at the end of each chapter. Diagrams, tables and source code examples are found on almost every page of the book, and these are used to keep the reader engaged with the textual discourse. Some of the diagrams are very well done.
The book contains some interesting programming examples. The chapters on operator overloading and floating point math contain source code illustrating how to deal with the numeric precision problems that plague all computers and computer languages. The chapter on the Standard Template Library contains a program showing how to create and use objects that manage a simple roster for enrollment and grading of students. The book also contains several examples of linked-lists and trees, for the purpose of teaching the reader how to use pointers, and to contrast such traditional algorithms with the easier to use C++ Standard Template Library.
Now to speak about the book's shortcomings. First, although the book does a solid job of covering the important C++ topics of classes, inheritance, and templates, it needs to explain more than it does (especially the coverage of inheritance.) Also, the terms instantiation, polymorphism and encapsulation are not used in the book. It seems that the author doesn't want to confuse the reader with object-oriented concepts. The book should have provided more insight into object-oriented concepts, given that C++ supports objects. This could have been done in a separate chapter. Also, these areas of the book are sparsely diagrammed. Second, source code errors and typos appear regularly enough to frustrate an inexperienced reader. I also found a couple of diagrams to be inaccurate. Third, there are occasional misleading statements that a beginner probably won't recognize as such. Because of these problems, I cannot recommend the book to people with no previous programming experience. I'm surprised that these problems made it into a second edition.
I think that despite these problems, the book has value to experienced programmers who want to learn C++. C programmers in particular will have an easier time dealing with the source code errors. The book can be used by beginning programmers in a classroom environment, providing the instructor understands the book's problems and is prepared to guide students around them. The book should be particularly useful when read in conjunction with a good C++ reference guide.
Practical C++ Programming is an ambitious work in its breadth and depth. It covers more areas of software development than other C++ books. It takes an interesting approach that some readers will appreciate and others may not. I'm currently undecided on the appropriateness of chapters on debuggers, the make utility, and the code review process. These topics may side-track many beginners.
I would have liked to see a more detailed and complete explanation of the object-oriented aspects of C++ (including more diagrams.) It would have been nice to include a table showing all Standard Template Library containers and methods (the book does make reference to two STL web sites.) Some mention of third-party object libraries (such as Rogue Wave, Qt, etc.) and their uses would have been helpful.
The lack of a detailed explanation of inheritance may not be bad. I'm one of those who believe that heavy reliance on inheritance causes serious maintainability problems. However, I think the book should have covered this topic more fully, so the reader would understand the issue.
O'Reilly & Associates is my favorite technical book publisher. However, some of the books I've read from this publisher contain numerous programming errors in the source code examples. I've been able to overlook these problems because I'm an experienced software developer and I appreciate the really outstanding job their authors do in explaining subject matter. Their book Pthreads Programming is a prime example of this. However, these problems cause concern when I read one of their books on a topic that I don't understand very well. It appears that O'Reilly needs to improve the technical review of their books before they go to press. I understand the difficulty of this when few experts on a particular topic may exist (not the case with C++.) Publishers may also be reluctant to hire outside editors due to non-disclosure concerns.
In summary, Practical C++ Programming is a good book that really shines in some aspects and is deficient in others. With some improvement, it could be a great book.