I had never heard of the Head First series of books before I got this one to review, so I was really surprised by the way these books approach their subjects. I’ve read a lot of technical books in my lifetime, but never one like this!
What is it that Head First Networking does that no other networking book can offer? I think you can get an idea by looking at the cover, but even the cover doesn’t do justice to the rest of the book. Let’s see what waits inside!
A novel approach
Head First Networking, like the other books in the series, offers serious information in a whimsical format. There are photographs. There are drawings. There are charts and graphs and lots of other visual elements that catch the reader’s attention. The book is written to be both entertaining and informative, in a style that engages the reader. In other words, it’s specifically designed not to be boring, and to get the reader interested in learning, effortlessly. (I found myself wishing that the textbook I used in my Networking class in college had been written like this. Think how much more I would have learned!) Networking is a complex subject, and I’ve seen my share of books that seem specifically designed to put people to sleep (or inspire them to take the book right back to the library as soon as possible). Head First Networking is definitely not that kind of a book. It pulls the reader right in and makes learning all these things easy, and more important, fun.
Making it easy
This book is not for high-level techies and it’s not for people who don’t want to learn anything new (which means that it’s for most of us). It’s designed to walk the reader through networking from the basics of laying out and wiring a network, through the hardware you’ll need, to more advanced topics like wireless networking and security. The authors explain everything in detail, and usually in more than one way. Since different people learn in different ways, having this kind of repetition vastly increases the book’s chances of success.
Things like topology, TCP stacks and VPNs are briefly mentioned in an appendix, since most people don’t need to know about things like that to set up and understand their own home networks. (At least those things are mentioned, so that anyone interested in higher level terminology can get a brief overview and then explore those subjects in more detail.)
Chapter setup and features
The authors use a series of fictitious companies to provide examples of what can go wrong and how to make it right. Coconut Airways’ wires are a mess, the Ghost Watch TV show needs to set up its equipment in a ratty old hotel, Mighty Gumball wants to sell its products at the Super Bowl, and so on. Every chapter takes a topic, works through real-world examples, asks the reader to think about the solutions, and shows how things are supposed to work out. There are also games and puzzles to make things even more interesting. The approach is not for everyone, to be sure—some of us just like our information presented in a straightforward manner so we can get on with it—but I think this makes the process of learning these things a lot of fun. And when you’re having fun, learning is painless. At the end of the chapters are the Sharpen Your Pencil quizzes, the Scholar’s Corner (where more advanced subjects are briefly discussed, the There Are No Dumb Questions section, where the things many people want to ask about are explained, and the answers to the quizzes and puzzles in the chapter. There are plenty of photographs, including vintage pictures with captions and photos taken specifically for the book.
Take a look, it’s in the book
This book is not like other technical books where you can just open up to any page and pick out the information you need. It’s designed to be read straight through, cover to cover, and the reader is expected to do the exercises. The authors have done an outstanding job of making this straight-through reading appealing. They don’t rely on any one approach to keep the reader engaged. They explain why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they don’t insult the readers’ intelligence by taking up space with forced humor. They want to teach, and they clearly believe that the reader wants to learn. It was a book I really did want to read from cover to cover, and for me, it’s a keeper. This review is not like the others I’ve written because this book is not like the others I’ve read. Head First Networking is fun to read but difficult to describe. I can definitely recommend that if you want to learn networking, you go get your hands on this book.
Say what? For a book this terrific, shouldn’t you just run right out and buy it? Well, no. Not without first taking a good look inside the book. It’s completely different from most other technical-instruction books and the approach may take some getting used to. The authors try to appeal to as many different people (with different learning preferences) as they possibly can, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hit the nail on the head for everyone. Check out this preview and see what you think, or get it from the library so you can browse through it at your leisure, or at least leaf through it in the book store. I’m betting that most of you will buy your own copy long before it comes time to give the library their copy back.