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Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Crystal Reports 8.5: The Complete Reference
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
Authors: George Peck, George Peck
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Power Users Paradise

This is profound literature. Do not buy this book if you want to "Just Get By" in your report writing. If you need/want that edge on the competition; this is for you.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Beginning XML (Programmer to Programmer)
Publisher: Wrox
Authors: David Hunter, Andrew Watt, Jeff Rafter, Kurt Cagle, Jon Duckett, Bill Patterson
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
Dull but effective

Overall, this book is worth the money...but it's a mixed blessing.
Ye GODS is this book dull. XML is a dry, dull topic to begin with. Declarative programming is a dry, dull topic. (Or perhaps I've just reached my limit with new programming concepts, and they're not fun any more.) This book does little to liven up that native dryness. But I suppose I don't read programming books for excitement and adventure. Still...I've read nerd books that had less of the "propped-up eyelids" effect. There have even been moments when bold propositions on the revolutionary nature of OOP had me feeling the rush of wind in my (now non-existent) hair, the smell of salty sea air in my nostrils, and the the thrill of the chase in my veins.
This book is more like an all-day visit with your prim Baptist grandmother. It might save your soul, but you won't be telling your friends about it later.
Some of the material is covered very well. The opening chapters are clear and concise, and the material on XML namespaces was very helpful to me. Other material is not covered so well. Some of the examples in XSLT, especially XPath, are tossed out, and are hideously confusing. It is only two or three paragraphs later that the confusing aspects are cleared up (if at all). I find this maddening, because I tend to hover on the example, and the paragraph immediately following it, until I figure it out. (I hate leaving unresolved questions in my mind when I'm reading programming books. Too often, they stay unresolved, and then I find myself lost when I'm attempting to code.) When I would finally give up in despair, I'd find the answer a bit further down the page, and realize I'd been wasting my time. Overall, when I got through the XSLT chapter, I understood it, but it was much more frustrating than it needed to be. I sense the lack of a good editor (or maybe any editor) here.
There were also a few strange examples written for, as the author himself admits, the "sheer perverseness" of it. DON'T DO THAT! If you want to have a sidebar where you show some unusual ways of doing things, fine. Keep them out of your primary examples. This is where a good editor steps in, clears his throat, and points a stern, accusing finger at the offending passage. A single word--"Out!"--suffices to bend the author to his will.
But I have to admit that I have yet to see somebody write a good, overall introduction to XPath that doesn't completely confuse and discombobulate a newbie. So it isn't just this author who is at fault.
The chapters on XML Schemas and DTDs are good. The chapters on the DOM and SAX interfaces are excellent. I nearly enjoyed reading them.
A lot of the later stuff in the book doesn't really belong in a "Beginning XML" book, if you ask me. SOAP, XML and Databases, Linking and Querying XML...these seem like at least intermediate topics, if not advanced. In my opinion, the "Beginning" part of the book ended more or less at page 385, even though the book goes on to page 603 before you hit the appendices. (The appendices contain some helpful reference material.)
I'm also not terribly happy with Wrox's "sell more books" technique of having "Beginning" and "Professional" books that have so much overlapping material. A lot of the stuff in their "Professional XML" book is not much more than a rehash of material presented here. It's dull enough the first time! The diagrams on the backs of their books imply that there's a progression from one book to the other. I didn't think that reading the "Professional" book was worth the effort after reading the "Beginning" book. I just picked out bits I was interested in. That meant at the bookstore, because I sure wasn't going to fork over the price for another big book I wouldn't read.
One other thing--the book has far too many errors in it. Admittedly, Wrox is very good at having online errata for their books to provide corrections. But careful editing up front is always preferable. The whole nerd book industry has a really awful reputation for sloppy editing. It's time that changed.
Nevertheless, there's no doubt that this book gives you a good grounding in a broad range of XML topics. Be prepared to be confused by the XLST and XPath material. (Consider looking at other sources for XPath in addition to this one.) Be prepared to visit Wrox's errata page for this book, and write in all the corrections in your copy. But this book does fairly well for a single-volume introduction to XML. If only it weren't so dull!

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: The Data Warehouse Toolkit: The Complete Guide to Dimensional Modeling (Second Edition)
Publisher: Wiley
Authors: Ralph Kimball, Margy Ross
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
An Indispensible Book

After six years of creating data warehouse applications, making a plethora of mistakes and learning stuff the hard way, I wish I had had this book at the start! Every other page offers a solution to some problem or other that I have had. In the project I am just starting I am facing new challenges and am finding help with them as well. The best part is how solutions I used in the past which were appropriate for those problems are contrasted with solutions for problems like the ones I am facing now. Almost as bad as solving a problem the wrong way (or overlooking it entirely) is reusing an old solution that does not fit the new problem. This book clearly spells out when each solution is appropriate. I can not speak too highly about how useful this book will be for you!

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Mastering Enterprise JavaBeans, 3rd Edition
Publisher: Wiley
Authors: Ed Roman, Rima Patel Sriganesh, Gerald Brose
Rating: 3/5
Customer opinion - 3 stars out of 5
Good introductory book.

If you can only afford one book buy this one! This is the best encapsulation of real-world experience available. I rate 'Enterprise Javabeans' by Richard Monson-Haefel a tad ahead for actually learning EJB because of the downloadable worksheets available for Weblogic 6.1, but this is the book I use regularly.
While you are at it have a look at Marinescu's EJB Patterns book, which began as a chapter in this one but grew large enough to become a book in it's own right..