REVIEW - Programming in the Key of C# - A Primer for Aspiring Programmers


Programming in the Key of C#

A Primer for Aspiring Programmers


Charles Petzold


Microsoft Press (2003)




Francis Glassborow


December 2003



My main concerns with this book have little to do with the technical accuracy or readability of this book. The author is experienced both as a writer and as a programmer. His knowledge of MS Windows puts him at the upper end of the expert class. That means that you can largely take those aspects of this book for granted.

My first problem is that this book is clearly aimed at the novice programmer rather than the newcomer to C# who is already an adequate programmer in one or more other languages. The pace and content of the book would drive anyone with prior experience to skip reading. That would not be helpful. The more I have looked at books aimed at introducing a language the more convinced I have become that it is impossible to write a satisfactory book for those that have never programmed that will also be good for those with prior experience. This book is definitely for the former category but I have some reservations about the author's assumptions as to what such a reader will need to have explained.

I think he oscillates between the temptation to tell the reader everything and recognising that the newcomer does not need nor benefit from such comprehensive detail. Certainly the book does not cover the whole of C#, nor should it given the target readership. The author has some understanding of the needs of novices as is shown by his provision of 'Key of C#' as an alternative to using Visual C#.NET (which the author rightly suspects is too heavyweight for the typical reader). Unfortunately the reader has to fetch that program and, more importantly, the .NET SDK (over 100 Mbytes, which basically requires a broadband connection if you need to get it, which the typical reader probably will). Of course you will also need Windows XP or 2000. I would feel much happier if the required OSs were stated on the front cover and not just buried away in the Prelude. I am also certain that the book should have come with a CD that included all the necessary software. It is available free on the Web so there is no excuse for Microsoft Press not including it with the book.

The text of the book comes in 41 chapters + index and all the usual bits at the front. This tells you that the author has tried to reduce the exercise of learning to program into a large number of small steps. However, anyone with experience of teaching knows that learning requires consolidation, so where are the exercises? To follow through on the author's music metaphor - where are the scales? Theory without practice is no way to acquire a skill.

Please do not misunderstand me; this is a much better than average book for a novice. However it is sadly marred by the things that are not there. The necessary software should be on a CD and most chapters should include exercises and clearly stated practice pieces for the reader. Without such things the book is only half what a reader needs.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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