Python in a Nutshell book review

Ron Stephens rdsteph at
Sun Apr 13 02:52:24 CEST 2003

Python in a Nutshell, by Alex Martelli, 2003 O'Reilly, 636 pages.

Perhaps the best book about Python ever written, this book is the 
perfect capstone to anyone's library of Pythonic books, and also the 
perfect introduction to Python for anyone well versed in other 
programming languages. For newbies to programming, this would still be a 
good second book after a good introductory book on Python, such as 
Learning Python by Mark Lutz.

Written by my favorite author and Pythonista, Alex Martelli, this book 
manages to fill three roles in extremely pleasing fashion. First and 
foremost to me, it is a great read, straight through. Mr. Martelli's 
prose is always sparkling and always keeps the reader interested. No 
matter how many Python books you have read, you will learn new nuances 
from this book, and it is about the best review of the whole Pythonic 
subject matter that I can imagine. While there is absolutely no fluff 
whatsoever in these 636 pages, it still makes for rather easy reading 
because the explanations are so clearly thought out and explored as to 
lead one gently to understanding, without in any way being verbose. It 
is obvious that Alex Martelli took his time and put in sufficient 
thought, effort, and intellectual elbow-grease to make this work a 
classic for all time.

Secondly, this book is the ultimate Pythonic reference book, the best 
fit to this role I have yet seen. You will keep this book in the most 
cherished spot on your book shelf, or else right at your side on your 
computer desk, because you can almost instantly find any topic on which 
you need to brush up, in the midst of a programminng project.

Third, Python in a Nutshell is the most up-to-date book on Python (as of 
April 2003) and includes the best and most complete expositions yet on 
the new features introduced in Python 2.2 and 2.3. These topics are not 
only covered in depth, they are integrated into the text in their proper 
positions and relationships to the language as a whole. They are 
explained better here than I have seen anywhere else, so much so as to 
make them not only understandable to me (a duffer), but indeed so that 
they appear seamlessly Pythonic, as if they had been a part of the 
language since version 1.0. Topics explored in depth include new style 
classes, static methods, namespaces, iterators, generators, and new 
style division. List comprehensions are made not only comprehesible but 
indeed intuitive.

The book is surprisingly complete. It covers the core language as well 
as the most popular libraries and extension modules. It is difficult to 
choose any one portion of the book to highlight for extra praise, as all 
topics are treated so well. It is a complete book, the new definitive 
book about Python.

Everything about this book speaks of quality. In addition to the top 
notch writing and editing, O'Reilly really did the right thing and 
published this book printed on the highest quality paper, paper so thin 
that the 636 pages are encompassed in a book much thinner than one would 
expect for such a size, but strong enough to resist wear and tear. The 
text is most pleasing to the eye. Holding the book, and turning its 
pages, gives one  a feeling of satisfaction.

Any job worth doing is worth doing well. Alex Martelli and O'Reilly have 
done justice to a topic dear to our hearts, the Python programming 
language. Perhaps, in years to come, the passing time may make this book 
be no longer the most up-to-date reference on the newest features added 
to Python. But time can not erase the quality craftsmanship and the 
shear joy of reading such a well thought out masterpiece of Pythonic 

Ron Stephens

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