Practical Ocaml (Anglais) Relié – 20 octobre 2006
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Instead, it seems that this book and its author seek to increase the what-the-hecks per minute well beyond even the high rate that is inherent in OCaml itself as a topic (of any book by any author). This book seems to be written from the following (hypothetical) perspective: OCaml is a mind-bender, so let's gratuitously amplify that mind-bending, because that is what I, the author, really enjoy about OCaml (or programming or life). Although perhaps such a premise would make for a good book a la Charles Dickens's scathing satire of abstract mathematics in _Alice in Wonderland_, this is not that book, but perhaps this is the author who could (with characters and plot that are both absent in this book) accomplish such a work.
All that said, this book does (almost accidentally) accomplish a subset of the aforementioned goals iff the reader reads one paragraph or one snippet of OCaml code and then ponders what was just said from the perspective of: if I were writing this book, how would I have presented the underlying subject matter that was not overtly presented in the wording that I just read. And then go back and re-read the authors words to see if what the reader re-imagined conforms to the author's presentation. Using this (somewhat painful) style of extraordinarily-active reading-via-rewriting-in-my-mind, I actually obtained a moderate amount of usefulness from this book.
If you're really interested in learning OCaml, there are links around on the "tubes" (Internet) for what is often called "the OCaml book" written by Jason Hickey. Its very good and if you can't deal with it not being in hard copy form, then just print the PDF :).
The basic syntax issues are glossed over. Type polymorphism example is introduced with an error. I can go on and on
-with statement, type statement etc . Author does nothing to guide the reader through a maze of jumbled syntax. Terrible waste of a really good idea.
OCaml is a sexy language that combines the expressiveness and terseness of scripting languages with the static type checking and performance of languages like C++ and Java. A book may be a good investment to learn a new language, and this is one of the few books available on the language. How does it fare?
This book has received very harsh criticism overall, and it mostly deserves it; it is somewhat of a mess. But it is not uniformly bad: some chapters are very bad, others are acceptable or interesting, depending on your background. The problem seems to be that the worst chapters come first; although it shows signs of bad editing throughout, the first few chapters are especially bad. And I mean really bad: bad text, bad editing, bad examples, lots of senseless repetition, conceptual errors, using language features not yet introduced (and that go unexplained), the list goes on. Later chapters are considerably less irritating.
Clearly inspired by Peter Seibel's terrific book Practical Common Lisp, the chapters on this one are divided in two types: the ones that explain the language, and the "Practical" ones, containing extended examples. This is a great idea, and even badly executed as it may be in Practical OCaml, it still results in interesting chapters. Actually, the Practical chapters are overall better than the language ones; from them, a reader can get a real sense of using OCaml in simple but realistic projects, integrating many different libraries and tools, some of them not contained in the standard OCaml distribution. Still, the code in these chapters can be criticized for their style. For one thing, I think the author uses classes and other OO features much more often than they appear on real OCaml programs. Nonetheless, an experienced programmer could get a lot of interesting pointers from these chapters, by knowing what to salvage and what not to replicate from the code.
But the rest of the book, the OCaml chapters, are in really bad shape. They don't explain things very well, and fails miserably at the more difficult aspects of the language. The chapter on modules and functors is so bad as to be almost useless; don't try to learn about functors from this book. Camlp4, the nifty tool for metaprogramming and extension, is other subject with a bad treatment. The chapter on Threads could be improved a lot, but it still gives a general idea of how multithreaded programming in OCaml is. Again, for experienced developers, it should provide pointers for further study.
If experienced developers can get something from this book, novice ones should stay away from it. Not only is the text confusing, but there are a lot of glaring conceptual errors. Maybe some errors are to be expected from a trade book, from an author that is not an academic, but there
are things that are completely confusing. For example, this is the definition of type (page 24): "A type is a thing (or a collection of things) or value." And there is a lot more like this, unfortunately.
Overall, it has interesting parts, but surely not enough to make worth the full cover price. For experienced programmers and people already familiar with other typed functional programming languages (Haskell, F#, SML, etc), the book could serve as an initial guide for OCaml programming, but there are better alternatives around.