REVIEW - C For Dummies

Title:

C For Dummies

Author:

Dan Gookin

ISBN:

1568849397

Publisher:

For Dummies (1997)

Pages:

1152pp

Reviewer:

Joe McCool

Reviewed:

June 1999

Rating:

★☆☆☆☆

I cannot recommend this book with any enthusiasm. It is far too verbose and adds little to an already overcrowded market. The same material has been covered with equal clarity in other texts using half the pages. Worked examples are often trivial and not terribly representative of real world programming. End of chapter questions are sometimes meant to be entertaining but in fact add nothing; 'In the event of a water landing, you should...'. These two tomes take up a total of 500mm and 1068 pages. K&R takes up 10mm!

Obviously aimed at beginners there are technical issues that could lead astray; he dismisses the need for make, claiming that the IDEs from Microsoft and Borland do the same job (what of poor Unix?) This is a new one to me. Make will check the date stamp on all source or related files (they might be parameter files after all) and exercise a whole range of operations to suit, including compilation, backups, etc. It may even update a source control system. I cannot see how an IDE can do this. Likewise

scanf
is dismissed as 'just too strange'. C++ is 'fancy object orientated hogwash'. Pointers are 'the ugliest aspect of C'. Unix's grep is 'hellish'. Only
strcpy
or
strncpy
are available to copy strings. It goes on and on, accompanied by the most banal wise cracks.

On the plus side he does cover the basics and at least mentions the existence of lint (something many C books fail to do). However, he suggests that modern compilers leave lint redundant. Bounds checking gets a mention, but only just. I venture that bounds checking and overwrites are one of the most frustrating aspects of C programming for beginners. This is especially true for those coming from a background in Basic. There is a web site connected with the text (http://www.c-for-dummies.com/), but it adds little, except more chapters.

Like me, the author is self-taught. Like me he as up on 20 years computer experience. Like me, he would claim a developed sense of humour (mine is the Irish version). But I don't write books on C programming. I wouldn't dare!

On this occasion I think Joe is a little biased. These tomes are not aimed at those with aspirations to be professional programmers, a point the publishers should make clear. For example, for novices teaching themselves, IDEs have a lot going for them. In addition Joe might be surprised by the amount that a modern project based IDE can do (including writing a make file for you) - Francis Glassborow

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.