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This is a very different approach to learning a programming languages. It turns the traditional approach on its head. Rather than first explaining a new concept and then showing some example code, this book does it in the reverse order. It starts with code that demonstrates everything youll learn. The idea is, you type it in, play with it, and try to break it. Then you read about what each line does. Rather than going through each new keyword separately, it just dumps a dozen or two on you at once and asks you to memorize them. Later, you understand what they do.I have mixed feelings about this book.The GoodI think this new approach is a better way to learn a new programming language. So often, in other books, I read all this explanation that I have trouble grasping because I need to see it to understand it. So I power through the explanation first, and then once I see it in action it all starts to become clear.With the hard way approach, you see a bunch of code you dont understand at first, but thats fine. You just need to type it in and play with it. Some of it you can probably figure out on your own as you experiment. Then the explanations answer any questions you have. It seems so much easier this way. Thats ironic, since its called the hard way.This approach has another huge advantage: it doesnt require quite so much explanation. Youve already played with the code, maybe looked some stuff up on your own. By the time the explanation comes, theres not much left to do. This seems especially appropriate for such a minimalist language like C. Youre already doing pointers by page 62 and heap and stack memory allocation by page 74. The language proper, advanced topics and all, is done by 135 pages, only 1/3rd of the book.That leaves 200 some pages for all the important stuff most language tutorials overlook: defensive programming, build systems, linking, libraries, automated testing, data structures and algorithms. So, by the time youre done with this book, youre pretty much done. Youll understand not just the language but how to do full projects, and how to use it for real work. Youll have practiced with tons of actual code, not just coding it but changing it and trying to break it.That brings me to something else I liked about the book. So many books talk about programming languages as if everything will work great the first time. Most beginner programmers get humbled very quickly. They get one compiler error after another, and they dont know why. They think theyre stupid or just not cut out for programming. The truth is, its very easy to break code, especially when youre still learning. Books should not just acknowledge this but tackle it proactively like this book does. Each chapter includes exercises where you purposely try to break it.I also like that he emphasizes a simple coding style. For example, rather than teaching you some fancy unit testing framework, he uses minunit, which is only 30 lines of code, after his tweaks. (The original is literally three lines of code!)Speaking of which, I like that he includes unit tests for everything. Writing unit tests is so important and always ignored in programming books, which portrays them as trivial and unimportant. Including unit tests for the code, you will understand the code better because you will see how its used. Youll also get used to seeing how to write unit tests in the language.The BadHe seems to use his new style of teaching programming as an excuse to be lazy about explanations. Often it feels very arm wavey. He depends on the reader to be proactive and do some research and experimentation on his own, and as a result he seems to assume that its fine to skimp on explaining things.He uses a library called bstring, and completely skips explaining how strings work in C. He justifies this by dismissing Cs strings as broken. Theyre only broken if you expect C not to be a low-level, minimalist language. It is, and its approach to strings reflects that perfectly. C is an excellent C, but its a lousy Java. Most criticism of it would go away if people accepted C on its own terms. Blowing off explaining C strings is a bad idea if for no other reason than beginners will be reading other code, almost all of which does not use the bstring library.The writing style bugs me. The description of the book says hes an entertaining and lively writer. To me, he just sounds like an arrogant hipster programmer. He thinks he is one seriously bad ass programmer, and he isnt, although hes pretty good.Heres a good example of his obnoxious writing style: You can thank me later when you realize how insanely awesome these macros are. Right now, you dont know how awesome they are, so youll just have to use them, and then you can walk up to me one day and say, Zed, those debug macros were the bomb. I owe you my firstborn child because you saved me a decade of hardache and prevented me from killing myself more than once. Thank you, good sir, heres a million dollars and the original Snakehead Telecaster prototype signed by Leo Fender. Yes, they are that awesome.What follows is a handful of macros that just print errors and jumps to the end of the function. Thats it. Ive written these kinds of macros a few times in my own code. Usually I dont need them because I dont abuse the heap, so I can usually do an if-statement and a return statement on one line. This is clearer than some obscure macro defined elsewhere. Its good that this book presents these macros, because they can save some lines of code in some situations, but mostly because it demonstrates the preprocessor and the importance of creating abstractions rather than duplicating code all over the place. But they are not that awesome.The UglyIn several chapters toward the beginning of the book, code and the output do not match. In exercise 7, several print statements from the code dont show up in the output. The output session for exercise 9 is actually the output session for exercise 10. Exercise 10 is about switch statements, but the example code doesnt actually have a switch statement. The book doesnt have any switch statements until exercise 13, which is actually about for-loops and string arrays. Exercise 13s output session is actually the output session from exercise 10.These are enormous errors. Im astonished they made it past the editing phase. And they happen at the worst possible place, when new programmers are still grappling with the basics of the language. They would get completely lost. This is practically a deal breaker for this book, and the reason Im only giving it 2-stars. The good news is that its only at the beginning. The problem doesnt show up later.

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