Head First Java review

2017-04-10

The Head First series is a group of educational books created by Cathy Sierra and Bert Bates. I say educational rather than software dvelopment, as they do cover more than just software (Click here for the full list of books). The "Head First Formula" is something you'll either love of hate. You just have to look at the comments on Amazon about Head First Java to see the division of opinions on the matter. Suffice to say, the Head First Series is the marmite of software books! Personally I love it, and here's why:

The Head First series is a cartoon-heavy and dare I say FUN approach to learning. It explains concepts and ideas about the subject in a kind of "dad humour" sort of way. Filled with puns and jokes, no book personifies this better than their flagship book, Head First Java. It's definitely an introductory book to Java, meaning that seasoned veterans of C# and Java-like languages will find the book lacking in terms of challenges and difficulty. But for someone who doesn't truly have at least one language that they can say they know, this book is perfect. It covers the 80% of Java that you'll use every day, such as (Deep breath):

  • Objects, behavior and state
  • Variables and their types
  • Encapsulation
  • Inheritance
  • Polymorphism
  • Garbage collection
  • The Math class
  • Exceptions
  • Swing (Well it IS kinda old...)
  • Serialization
  • File Input/Output
  • Data Structures
  • And a bunch of other stuff

So it covers quite a lot of areas and will definitely get you to the level where you can say you "know Java". It has a few tips and tricks that enforce this, such as advising that the book is the last thing you do/read before bed and trying to involve you as much as possible when absorbing the material. Things like puzzles and crosswords (that are genuinely enjoyable) are the icing on the cake that is this book. There're also exercises where you have to slot code into blank areas of a working program, which I haven't seen in any programming book outside the head first series before. You don't have to do these sections, but they're fun so definitely try them out. And this all comes with pretty diagrams that make it very easy to digest. It is a very enjoyable and easy read to get through. Of course no review would be complete without some criticisms of the book, so here are some issues with the Head First approach:

  • 700 pages is a pain to get through. My book went mouldy due to the elements, and me carrying it aorund constantly.
  • It's still a relevant book, but some content could be skipped (Swing), although skipping it means missing extra practice!
  • Black and white cartoons kinda suck. They definitely make the 700 pages drag on, but it's a better alternative to dry text.
  • It's a bit too beginner friendly. If you already have an object-oriented language under your belt, it might be too slow for you.

Score: eight out of ten monads.

In conclusion, buy this book if you're a first year college student or self-teaching/a bootcamper. Avoid it if you're a 1337 object-oriented H@CX0R5.

-Marc