Book Review: Essential C# 3.0

I haven’t posted a book review here before, but that’s because no-one has sent me a pre-release draft manuscript to review before! So here it is, a review of Essential C# 3.0 by Mark Michaelis.

To skip to the chase, I like this book a lot. My personal C# level is Intermediate: although I was on the C# team for many years, I did close to zero C# coding as I worked on the debugger, which was entirely written in C++. Ironically once I left the team I did a lot more, and these days I am doing it daily. The book aims for a range of users, from beginners to advanced, but its hard for me to vouch how useful it is for either of those extremes. I can tell you that for Intermediates it is great.

The book is easy to read, and labels specific sections as Beginners (which I mostly speed-read through) and as Advanced (which I usually read carefully). Something I particularly liked is the way it described the C# changes from 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0 for each area: even though many of the 3.0 changes occurred while I was on the C# team, I never got the chance to really use them, and the book managed to remind me of lesser-used C# 2.0 features that I had plain forgotten (like nullable types).

I am not a big fan of the MSDN web site, in fact it drives me crazy almost every day I use it, and it especially drives me crazy when I am trying to find C# things. Before this book, delegates were my biggest C# bugaboo: I could never get the syntax quite right, and I’d go off and look at other folks code in our project and try to copy what they did, and I’d eventually get something that compiled. It turns out that one of the reasons I was confused is that the syntax has evolved over the C# versions, and our project uses pretty much all of them, depending I think on the author and when the code was written. I really loved Chapter 12, which is all about delegates, and after reading the book I managed to write some new delegate code without so much as a compiler error. It also taught me how to read and write the new 3.0 syntax for lamda expressions, and although I can’t say I can do those right first time, I can at least read them and get one of my own to compile in a few tries: a great improvement.

The book doesn’t try to cover the myriad of .NET Framework features, and sticks just to the basics like Object, Collections and some on Threads. That suits me just fine, MSDN is just-about-usable when it comes to Framework documentation.

The book is not perfect: each chapter starts with a Mind Map, which is a star-shaped diagram that attempts to explain the contents of the following chapter: it was meaningless to me. Its coverage of platform invoke is also lacking, especially in marshalling and pointer handling, and that is one area that MSDN is particularly poor so I usually resort to internet-wide searches for answers to my issues in that area. The chapter on Query Expressions I found hard going after a while, but I think that is due to the subject matter and my mind, not the book. Once I actually start using LINQ I’m sure a revisiting of the Chapter 15 will make a lot more sense the second time around.

Once I finished reading it at home I took it to the office to use as a general reference work, but immediately discovered a disadvtange of getting a free pre-release copy: there was no index! I see a future for lots of those little colored tabs on my copy, until I shell out for a real one. Although it was a draft, I saw no obvious typos or technical errors, something that I can’t say for a recent Microsoft Press book I bought, which had an embarassment of typos that a simple spell-check should have caught.

In summary I like this book a lot: its level suited my skill set perfectly, and it taught me a bunch of new things as well as reminding me of a few forgotten gems. It will take its place on my desk at work as the first place I turn to for C# information. Once I get those colored tabs in place…