Sunday, April 30, 2006

When is a Nutshell not a Nutshell?

I was in a bookstore yesterday and noticed that Java in a Nutshell, a popular reference book about the programming language Java, has become one of the fatter books on the Java shelf. The current, fifth edition is 1,252 pages and weighs 3.3 pounds—in paperback. In comparison, the book’s first version was 460 pages.

I then came across a blog post by Kathy Sierra that notes (a) the first public release of Java’s API had roughly 200 classes, and (b) Java’s current standard edition has something like 3,500 classes.

So Java in a Nutshell deserves praise for growing less than 3x between its first and current edition, given that the Java class library has grown 17x. And one could argue that the nutshell-ness of the book is in the concise coverage of topics, not the number of topics. After all, it’s not meant to be read straight through.

But that said, I can’t help thinking if a book exceeds 1,000 pages, or requires multiple volumes, it’s time to trade-in the nutshell metaphor—something more spacious would be less specious.


  1. And when is BETA Omega? Creative post. Thanks.

  2. I have the 3rd edition "Java in a Nutshell", and even then it didn't cover the whole library. Swing and other important core libraries are covered in "Java Foundation Classes in a Nutshell".
    My guess is that the library is covered by a range of nutshell books.