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Title: Web Development Recipes
Author: Brian Hogan, Chris Warren, Mike Weber, Chris Johnson, Aaron Godin
Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf
Level: Some previous web development required
Verdict: Highly recommended
Not quite boasting a cast of thousands, this five author book delivers 42 recipes that cover a range of web development topics and technologies. Organised into seven sections, the recipes cover user both the output side of things (eye candy, user interfaces, mobile devices etc), the content side of things (external data sources, for example), development (workflow, testing etc) and finally a section on hosting and deployment.
The cookbook style of the book means that it's easy to pick and choose chapters - this isn't designed to be read from cover to cover (though it was how this read tackled the book any how). Some of the recipes refer back to previous ones, but on the whole most of them are standalone. Each one introduces the topic at hand with a little scenario along the lines of 'your client wants X, but you can't use technology Y and it has to be ready yesterday…' While it's a convenient hook to explain what the recipe is tackling, it doesn't really add much to the content. And it's the content that is the strength of the book.
Each recipe proceeds in a logical fashion, taking a step by step approach to solving the problem that's set out at the beginning. There are plenty of screen shots and there's sample code to try out. For those who like to follow along many of the recipes involve the client and server end of things, and the book uses a VirtualBox and Ubuntu as the server platform. While there's an appendix which provides instructions for rolling your own, the authors have done the decent thing and also provided a downloadable image which you can configure and use to try out the recipes.
Finally, once the solution has been developed, refined and explained, the authors then finish off with hints and tips as to how extend what's just been developed. There's also a list of references to follow up on as well.
With such a mix of authors and topics you'd expect the quality of the overall book to be variable, but to be honest that wasn't the case. Even though not all of the topics were of immediate interest, it was worth reading through them to see what was on offer in case it could be useful later on. As a one-stop introduction to current tools and techniques the sheer breadth of content really stands out. It just brings out the diversity of approaches and the vibrancy of open source development on the web. There's no doubt, this one is very highly recommended.