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The ThoughtWorks Anthology: Essays on Software Technology and Innovation

ThoughtWorks Inc
Published by Pragmatic Bookshelf
ISBN: 978-1-934356-14-2
248 pages
£ 24.50
Published: 17 Mar 2008
reviewed by Paul Waring
   in the June 2008 issue (pdf), (html)

A collection of essays written by ThoughtWorks employees, this book initially caught my eye with its promise of 'insightful essays on modern software development practices'. Having worked on numerous pieces of custom software, I was hoping for some gems of wisdom and experience which I could apply to existing and future projects.

The essays contained within this book cover a wide variety of topics, some focusing on technical issues with lots of source code examples, others straying more towards management problems. The management essays include a chapter on 'Iteration Managers' — having read this essay several times, I'm still not sure exactly what these are (some sort of hybrid between a project manager, personnel manager and team member it would seem). Other essays cover the 'last mile' of software development, various types of testing and domain annotations.

As someone who has had to work with huge Ant build.xml files in the past, I found the essay 'Refactoring Ant Build Files' particularly interesting. The breakdown of over a dozen different ways to refactor Ant build files to make them either shorter or easier to read (or both), backed up with simple examples, is well thought out and definitely worth a read for anyone who has had to deal with this sort of situation. The Lush Landscape of Languages also managed to tread a careful and interesting path through the different types of programming languages, pointing out that each one is good for a specific problem, but no one language is the best choice for every situation.

However, despite some useful and interesting essays, the main problem I had with this book was that there was no central theme running through all of the contributions - the only aspect which they had in common was the fact that they were all authored by ThoughtWorks employees. Whilst this lack of a central theme does mean that you can skip over essays which don't cover your area of interest without losing out on any crucial details, it also means that the book has no overall message beyond 'you should do things the ThoughtWorks way'. Based on this, my overall feeling was that the book was a bit of a mismash and lacked any particular focus. Having essays on diverse topics means that most people may not get a great deal out of the book, as only a few essays will be relevant to their work.

In summary: the individual essays are generally good, but the book as a whole needs a stronger theme. If you want to see whether there are enough interesting essays for you, the table of contents and a sample essay ('One Lair and Twenty Ruby DSLs') are available online on the Pragmatic Programmers website.

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