By Michael Ross
This book review was published by Slashdot, 2010-04-28.
jQuery Cookbook's 480 pages are organized into 18 chapters, covering a wide range of topics: the basics, element selection, utilities, dimensions, effects, events, forms, plug-ins, user interfaces, theming, Ajax, data formats, and testing. Lindley starts off the first chapter, titled "jQuery Basics", by presenting the advantages, philosophy, and organization of jQuery. Readers will likely chuckle at his suggestion that they memorize the jQuery API outline, which comprises two pages. The many code snippets are quite helpful, but they are needlessly long, partly because most of them contain far more HTML elements than are needed to illustrate the point, and also because each snippet contains the DOCTYPE and head tags, among others — often taking up more lines on the page than does the code pertinent to the topic at hand. This pointless and space-wasting redundancy is seen also in a few of the chapters that follow. As well, some of the passages in the first chapter's narrative are oddly phrased, frequently requiring a rereading of the material, while others could be made more concise. Additionally, some of the sample code contains bugs, which fortunately are detailed on the errata page mentioned earlier. The second chapter, "Selecting Elements with jQuery", presents numerous techniques for specifying elements within the DOM. The only obvious blemish in the material is in section 2.4, where the author refers to animated elements, but with absolutely no explanation as to what that means; countless new readers may assume he is referring to animated GIFs. Nonetheless, these two chapters form a helpful foundation for the rest of the manuscript.
The third chapter, "Beyond the Basics", gets off to a questionable start with the assertion that "jQuery can […] extend jQuery to infinite possibilities", which sounds like a line wisely rejected for the movie Toy Story. Yet the discussion continues on a solid footing, as it covers more advanced techniques for working with selected elements. Some of the discussion overlaps material presented in the previous two chapters, but it is always worthwhile to hear critical concepts explained from a different perspective. However, section 3.8, which briefly introduces jQuery plug-ins, is out of place; that material should be folded into Chapter 12, which focuses on that topic. The fourth chapter may be brief, but it explains several jQuery utility methods. Most of the code snippets use a format of "(function($) … (jQuery);" — whose usage and advantages are not explained in this chapter, nor any earlier ones. This points up one of the key downsides of having almost every chapter of a programming book written by separate authors: readers can be confused or misled by disparities in coding practices, especially when the reasoning behind them is not given. The title of the fifth chapter, "Faster, Simpler, More Fun", is a bit misleading, because the authors don't explain how to make one's jQuery programming simpler or more fun, but they do provide a great deal of information on troubleshooting, performance optimization, and jQuery coding practices, including those pertaining to progressive enhancement, accessibility, and unobtrusiveness. Section 5.19 lacks a figure showing the menu being discussed, but that's the only obvious flaw.
Because of its coverage of a wide range of topics, jQuery Cookbook can be used not only as a learning aid, but in some respects also as a reference — and in this regard the book's index will be quite useful. In light of the considerable length of the manuscript, reading it from stem to stern would involve an investment of time — especially if one were to work through all of the examples and try them out in one's own development environment — quite easily, in fact, since all of it can be downloaded from the publisher's site. Most of it, however, is organized as plain text files, and not HTML files; and no reason is provided for this annoying choice.
There is another aspect related to not only this book but all other computer programming books for which individual chapters are written by different authors: jQuery Cookbook does not seem to be a single book, but instead a collection of books that were bundled together because of a common thread, namely, jQuery. This leads to some of the problems mentioned earlier, such as discrepancies in coding techniques and formatting — from which the beginning reader is supposedly learning best practices. On the other hand, the multi-author approach makes it possible for each major subject area to be handled by one or more writers who are expert in that particular area — which in turn results in a better product overall, even if one or two of the chapters are noticeably weaker than the others.
The book contains a number of copyediting flaws not listed on the aforementioned errata page: "elevated" should instead read "alleviated" (page 12); "or [its] alias" (13); "could change" should read "could be changed" (26); "jQuery('a')removeAttr('title')" is missing a "." (30); "'blue')" is missing a terminating ";" (50); "season in" should read "season" (56); "was contained" should read "is contained" (144); "position: absolute" in the narrative should not be broken between two lines (156); "great[er] than" (157); "equal[-]sized panels" (160); "only running" should read "only runs" (165); "still support[s]" (168), "#source5txt" should read "#source4txt" (217); and at this point I stopped recording errata. Also, in countless places in most of the chapters, semicolons are used where dashes are called for, and vice versa. O'Reilly's copyeditors should have detected and fixed those errors prior to publication.
Copyright © 2010 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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