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Java In A Nutshell (Fourth Edition)

By David Flanagan, published by O'Reilly 2002

Java in a Nutshell is a quick-reference guide for Java programmers. It contains an accelerated introduction to the Java language, as well as a description of the core APIs.

This is the only book that I have bought four times! I find it so much a part of my everyday programming that I have bought every edition since the first one was published in 1996.

I think that whether you use Java in a Nutshell as much as me depends on you and the way that you prefer to work, rather than on the book itself. The book does exactly what it is says, and it does it well - it provides a concise description of the language and a description of the core APIs. Some people prefer a longer, more detailed description of the language that provides more examples than this book can possibly offer. Others might feel that the descriptions of the APIs offer little more (and sometimes less) than the JavaDoc which can easily be downloaded as HTML and browsed online. They have a point - I regard Sun's JavaDoc as the definitive guide, but still find myself flicking through the pages of my Java In A Nutshell first because:

  • old habits die hard
  • it's reassuring to have a hard copy of the APIs in your hand
  • it's easier to leave a book open on a page on your desk, ready for further reference, than to use valuable screen space to keep online documentation visible at the equivalent place
And I really do use the language reference too. Whenever a question about the Java language arises, I find myself reaching for this book, either to find the answer, or to satisfy myself that my intuition was correct, or to provide a more precise explanation than the one that I was able to give.

This fourth edition of Java in a Nutshell covers Java 1.4 and is much thicker than its predecessors, with nearly 1000 pages. Some might argue that a Java book of that size can't qualify for the 'In a Nutshell' series any more, but it packs a lot in. Actually, there are so many core packages in Java 1.4 that O'Reilly have redesigned the layout of the API documentation so that it takes less space compared to previous editions of the book. And, as you would expect, the reference covers the new packages of Java 1.4, including the new I/O, logging and XML functionality.

I use Java in a Nutshell almost every day. I'd say if you work with a reference book in preference to online documentation, and you program in Java, then this book is a must!

SW, April 2003.

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