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The Art of UNIX Programming Eric S Raymond
Published by Addison Wesley
ISBN:0-13-142901-9
528 pages
£ 30.99
Published: 2nd October 2003
reviewed by Owen LeBlanc
   in the March 2004 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

I had a bit of difficulty coming to terms with this book at first, partly because I was not sure what it was trying to do, and partly because I found the very beginning irritating. Eric has very definite views, and he states them bluntly. The book begins with a statement of seventeen rules of Unix philosophy, and I did not appreciate the tone in which they were presented.

The following sections, including a history of Unix and a comparison with other operating systems, was more interesting; I knew most of the data, but it looks a little different from Eric's point of view. These introductory chapters take up about 80 pages.

After this the book begins in earnest. Chapters on Design (over 200 pages) and Implementation (80 pages) are followed by a section entitled `Community', which covers the evolution of C, standards, documentation, `open source' (from the characteristic Eric S Raymond point of view), and the future. Four appendices and a concluding remark are followed by the long index.

Despite my misgivings, and the irritation which some sections of the book caused, I find much more to like than to dislike in this book. Eric's ideas are interesting, and if you ignore the occasional pontification, there is quite a lot that's worth serious consideration. I've been working on an application while reading the book, and I think I made four or five small changes in the overall design as a result of considering some of Eric's advice. He analyses strong points and problems in a wide variety of software, using many examples to make his points, and they are usually very well taken.

The comments from twelve other `contributors' are occasionally amusing or informative; I was certainly glad there were not many of these comments, and most of them are mercifully short.

There are some difficulties in the printing, which I feel should have been fixed. It is worth saying that the editing appears to have been fairly thorough and able, but a few errors have remained uncorrected: there's a couple of odd page breaks (for example, on p 473), and some sentences like this one: `Less remembered is that the Gabriel's central argument was about...' (p 298), where the extra `the' should have been removed. But these are minor blots on a fairly satisfactory product.

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