Book Reviews

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Games, Diversions & Perl Culture
Title:Games, Diversions & Perl Culture
Publisher:O'Reilly Media
Reviewer:Jon Allen

'Games, Diversions & Perl Culture' is the third book in O'Reilly's 'Best of The Perl Journal' series, the previous volumes being 'Computer Science and Perl Programming', and 'Web, Graphics, and Perk/Tk'.

A compendium such as this brings the important question 'Is the content still relevant?'. Not that there would any problem with publishing TPJ's archives for historical value, but will the book really be of use today? In the IT industry, about the only thing that remains constant is the pace of change, so how does 'Games, Diversions & Perl Culture' stand up? The answer is surprisingly well. Some articles, that for example may have been based around a particular module or feature that has since been depreciated, have not been included. But the material that is in the book is just as useful today as when the articles were originally written. And just in case you've got all the TPJ back issues, there's even some new stuff thrown in as well.

So let's see what we actually get.

Following an essay by Larry Wall (which was the first article in the first issue of TPJ), we are treated to scans of the cover artwork the first 20 issues of The Perl Journal, with commentary from the photographer, Alan Blount. In many ways this is my favourite section (I have an interest in photography as well as Perl). The majority of this chapter was new to me as I only started subscribing to TPJ from issue 18. I now wish I'd started earlier - unfortunately 'Games, Diversions and Perl Culture' is printed in black and white, so we don't get to see Alan's photography in all it's glory. At this point I must make a special mention to his cover for TPJ issue 8. Of course I'm not going to tell you exactly what the photograph is (or how it relates to Perl - you'll have to buy the book for that!), but rest assured it is pure genius.

The next couple of sections, Science and Language, cover such diverse topics as genetic algorithms, natural language processing, the Human Genome Project, and MIDI music.

Moving on brings us to the Games section. The Perl/Internet quiz shows will test both your Perl skills and your knowledge of useless trivia. Things get harder with the Perl Wizard's quiz - get full marks on this (no cheating!) and you should probably be writing books as well as just reading them!

Finally, after an exploration of Perl poetry, we have the results of each Obfuscated Perl Contest. Provoking responses ranging from 'Uh?', 'How?', to 'I'm not worthy', this section contains some of the most innovative, not to mention downright evil code you're ever likely to see. Learn from it but don't expect a good code review!

'Games, Diversions & Perl Culture' differs from most programming books in that it is not a tutorial on a specific technique or product (not that there is nothing to learn - quite the opposite in fact), but it is genuinely a good read. If you like the Perl language in itself, not just for work, then this book is for you. Keeping in the spirit of the various contests and quizzes in 'Games, Diversions & Perl Culture', I'll end with a 'Perl Golf' version of this review: 'Buy it.'