He's not dead, he's resting

Programming – Principles and Practice using C++

Programming — Principles and Practice Using C++ is the new book by Bjarne Stroustrup, the daddy of C++. It’s an introduction to programming rather than an advanced book; I’ve been holding off writing up my impressions of it because I’m not entirely sure what to say.

The overriding theme of this book seems to be “there are lots of complications, special cases and obscure things”. This is of course true, and it’s a refreshing change from most introductory books that go out of their way to construct highly contrived examples that conveniently ignore any obscurity. But I suspect it goes too far — pretty much every example is twice as long as it probably should be. There’s so much focus on dealing with complexities that the underlying “what’s going on?” is lost.

Partly this is down to C++. A language designed to handle real world, large scale problems and provide for maintainability over decades isn’t going to be the most elegant. On the other hand, purely teaching languages that dismiss the real world entirely are of no practical use. The question is whether C++ as a first language is a sensible idea, and I’m not in the least bit convinced that it is.

Partly, though, this is down to the choice of projects. An example: two chapters are devoted to writing a calculator program. These chapters cover lexers, parsers, grammars and error recovery. This isn’t one of those cop-out calculator programs where syntax is carefully selected to hide any kind of mess, either — it almost looks like the book is going to end up implementing a compiler… Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the final program that really needs any of this complexity; a simple “tokenise into a list, then replace all the multiplications with their result, then replace all the divisions with their result and so on” would work just as well for the requirements, and wouldn’t have most of the mess.

The scope of the book is impressive, though. It doesn’t gloss over classes, templates, pointers, exceptions or even dealing with code written in C. It’s extremely comprehensive, even in places where it probably shouldn’t be.

Finally, a note on writing style. The word ‘basically’ appears on average once per page, and sometimes three or four times in a single paragraph. This gets very annoying very quickly. Stroustrup’s other books don’t suffer from this.

I suppose my conclusion is: if you have to learn C++ as a first language, this is the book to use. If you have a choice, though, learn one of the monkey languages first, and then pick up The C++ Programming Language and The C++ Standard Library.


3 responses to “Programming – Principles and Practice using C++

  1. Sebastian January 31, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Which languages do you refer to by “one of the monkey languages”?

  2. pizer January 31, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    It reminds me: the whole lexxer, parser thing was a bit annoying in TC++PL, too. But overall I liked TC++PL. I was already wondering whether his new book makes a good reference for newbies that want to learn both — the language AND programming. So far I’ve been saying “There is this new book but I havn’t read it. It might be good.” when asked. ;-)


  3. Ciaran McCreesh January 31, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Monkey language depend upon your background. Haskell for mathematicians, otherwise, Ruby or Python.

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