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19 March 2010
I read a lot of technical books and magazines. My personal library consists of over 110 technical books and continues to grow (I have written book reviews of a small number of these technical books). My books vary from those aimed at the complete beginner to advanced programming books with various levels in between, but so far does not have any books from the "for Dummies" series.
Perhaps it's just me - but I wouldn't have thought that insulting the potential reader would be a good way to sell a book, but the series has turned into something of a phenomenon. It seams it's not just me that thinks that way, but was also the initial thoughts from the books stores, but they seamed to be swayed by the publishers calling it a "term of endearment" and the large number of sales. The range of books under the For Dummies series is now vast, going from the original books which covered simple steps in the world of computing to Java programming and then to non-computing books such as Needlecrafts for Dummies and even Sex for Dummies!
At the time the first For Dummies books were released there was a strong technology divide between those that had left school long before personal computers and those that had been brought up with computers in every classroom. The For Dummies book provided a way for those that didn't know where the computer on-button is, to make the leap from the technologically excluded to a member of the club. Since then the books have been so successful that much of the stigma has gone for many, but some (ie. me) remained to be convinced.
On a visit to my local library in Redditch I saw Electronics for Dummies and as I was in the process of creating a new electronics section for PenguinTutor.com I though it would be a good idea to review the book for the site. So I grabbed the book off the shelf, used the self-checkout machine (so nobody could see) and sneaked the book home for a bit of secret reading. This is a book where I have little risk to my reputation as I have a Masters degree in the subject, but it still feels embarrassing having the "for Dummies" highlighted across the front page if reading in public.
I was a pleasantly surprised by the general tone of the book and pleased to see that it wasn't patronising as I had feared. It is clearly aimed at the complete beginner and I think it would be better if it included a bit more in some areas.
I think the content of the book is good and I'm now thinking of borrowing another For Dummies book from the library. I'm not sure whether I'm ready to have one sit alongside my Advanced PHP programming books but maybe it's time to take the literal meaning from that age old idiom "Don't judge a book by it's cover".
There are alternatives to the Dummies books. Generally searching for a book with beginner in the title will produce a good selection, but the following series are specifically tailored to the complete beginner.
Note: * The Head First guides uses a unorthodox approach involving puzzles and reader interaction to assist with the learning process (see Book Review: Head First Java).