Is this book for you? If you're a programmer in a language other than C++, and want to upgrade your skills, then the answer is yes. But what if you have no previous programming experience? In that case, here's a little quiz that may help you decide:

  1. Do you want to know how the programs in your computer work inside, and how to write some of your own?
  2. Are you willing to exert yourself mentally to learn a complex technical subject?
  3. Do you have a sense of humor?

If you've answered yes to these questions and follow through with the effort required, then you will get a lot out of this book.

The common wisdom states that programming is a difficult subject that should be reserved for a small number of specialists. One of the main reasons that I have written this book is that I believe this attitude is wrong; it is possible, and even desirable, for you to learn how programs work and how to write them. Those who don't understand how computers perform their seemingly magical feats are at an increasing disadvantage in a society ever more dependent on these extraordinary machines.

Regardless of the topic, I can see no valid reason for a book to be stuffy and dry, and I've done everything possible to make this one approachable. However, don't let the casual tone fool you into thinking that the subject is easy; there is no "royal road" to programming, any more than there is to geometry. Especially if you have no prior experience in programming, this book will stretch your mind more than virtually any other subject you could study.

One of the reasons that this book is different from other books is the participation of Susan, my primary "test reader". To introduce her to you, here is a bit of correspondence between us on the topic of how one should read this book, which occurred after her first reading of what is now Chapters 2 and 3:

Susan: Let me say this: to feel like I would truly understand it, I would really need to study this about two more times. Now, I could do this, but I am not sure you would want me to do so. I think reading a chapter once is enough for most people.

Steve: As a matter of fact, I would expect the reader of my book to read and study this chapter several times if necessary; for someone completely new to programming, I imagine that it would be necessary. Programming is one of the most complex human disciplines, although it doesn't take the mathematical skills of a subject such as nuclear physics, for example. I've tried to make my explanations as simple as possible, but there's no way to learn programming (or any other complex subject) without investing a significant amount of work and thought.

After she had gone through the text a number of times and had learned a lot from the process, we continued this discussion as follows:

Susan: Well then, maybe this should be pointed out in a Preface or something. Of course, it would eventually be obvious to the reader as it was to me, but it took me awhile to come to that conclusion. The advantage of knowing this in advance is that maybe I would not be so discouraged that I was not brilliant after one read of a chapter.

Steve: I will indeed mention in the Preface that the reader shouldn't be fooled by the casual tone into thinking that this is going to be a walk in the park. In any event, please don't be discouraged. It seems to me that you have absorbed a fair amount of very technical material with no previous background; that's something to be proud of!

We'll be hearing from Susan many more times in the course of the book. She will be checking in frequently in the form of extracts from the e-mail discussion we engaged in during the testing and revising process. I hope you will find her comments and my replies add a personal touch to your study of this technical material.

While we're on the topic of your studying, this would be a good time to tell you how to get updates and help with any errors you might find in the book or any other questions you might have.

The best way is to send me email.

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