Daily Archives: 30 March, 2010

Perl Books

Those of you who have been following my work for some time might remember that many years ago I took some interest in Perl books. I don’t mean the kind of books that we all read (or, even write) with animals on the cover. I mean the kinds of terrible Perl books that at one stage seemed to take up over 90% of the space given over to Perl books in most bookshops. They had brightly coloured covers and made unlikely claims about how good you would be with Perl after an unfeasibly short period of time.

They all seemed to be written by people who didn’t actually know anything about Perl and they were full of the most atrocious Perl code that I’ve ever seen. Of course they were all not just about Perl but were about CGI programming with Perl (as that’s what everyone wanted to use Perl for ten years ago). It was easy to tell the quality of these books from the index. You just looked for mentions of “use strict”, “use warnings” or CGI.pm. Most books ignored them completely. At the time Schwern had a “litmus test” for the quality of Perl books. It was list of bullet points that you could use to easily calculate how bad a Perl book was. I seems to have dropped off the internet at some point in the last ten years.

Last weekend I was in the centre of London and I went into a couple of large book shops that I haven’t been to for some time. And it looks to me as though this problem has finally gone away. Looking at the Perl section in Foyles, for example, I saw a very few dodgy Perl books. Of course, there were far fewer Perl books of any quality than there would have been five or six years ago, but the ones that were left were pretty much all decent books.

My initial thought was that this was just another sign that Perl has lost the battle for the low-end web development market. People who want to hack up a web site no longer even consider using CGI programs written in Perl. These days those people would all use PHP. But it seemed to me that there weren’t many “Learn PHP in 24 Hours” books on the shelves either. So perhaps the low-end web development market doesn’t exist any more. Or, at least, perhaps it’s not big enough to make it profitable enough for publishers.

I’ll admit that my sample wasn’t particularly big. And Foyles isn’t exactly your average book shop. It caters for the higher end of the book-buying market. I wanted to test my hypothesis by looking at the computer books section in Borders over the road. But Borders has closed down. Another indication of the diminishing size of the book market.

I’m going to take this investigation further. I’ll check out the computer section in some lower-end book shops. But just to give myself some closure I’m going to declare my campaign against bad Perl books to be over. We won in the end. But it may be a slightly Pyrrhic victory.