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Python in a Nutshell

Alex Martelli
Published by O'Reilly Media
654 pages
£ 28.50
Published: 14 Mar 2003
reviewed by Graham Lee
   in the December 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

It has long been the case that when I need a reference book for a programming topic, I'll check to see if there's a Nutshell first. Python in the Nutshell, like the rest of the series, is really easy to search; not through the index, but because the book is divided into a hierarchy of parts and chapters so that it's obvious where a particular topic will be covered.

The style in this book alternates between discussion and summary, with language feature descriptions mainly being wordier and the module references much more concise. This can make finding a particular piece of information harder in the language reference, but still works well because the discussion goes into amazing detail about how particular features are implemented, referring to the PEPs -- online documents relating to the Python development process -- where applicable. Because Python is a moving target, the book has to refer to three different versions of the language (2.3 to 2.5) which makes more sense than would treating any one of the versions in vacuo, but can complicate some descriptions.

The coverage of the ``standard'' library of modules is organised thematically, and alongside tables of function references includes some very useful examples of use. The book then closes with a section on both the classic C Python and Java-based Jython runtimes, and how to use Python alongside the native language in each case. Some small mention of IronPython (a .NET implementation of Python) is made, but as that project was not complete at the time of publication the coverage is little more than an indication to take a look at their website. Both it and PyPy (a Python implementation in Python) seem mentioned just for sake of compelteness.

This book is one that will find its regular place to be not in my bookshelf but on the desk next to the computer. Because it's so readily searchable, it can frequently be quicker to find that function I've forgotten the name of in the Nutshell than to use pydoc. My review copy is already showing signs of thumb attacks.

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