I read a lot of books, and at one point, unhappy with the lack of good technical book reviews available, I was going to review each new Silverlight 4 book as it became available on this blog. However I was getting so much flack about my 'negativity' on Twitter I abandoned the idea when I found each new book I intended to review was just not worth the money I'd paid for it.
About this time last year, one book author asked me via a private message on Twitter for an 'honest' opinion on his book, which at the time had received two or three five star reviews on Amazon USA.
So I gave my honest opinion! I pointed out that the book was out-of-date with even the public beta version of the software it was claiming to exhaustively cover. I also pointed out that the back cover jacket sales blurb mentioned stuff that wasn't even included in the book, and that the book's biggest chapter was irrelevant because it was all about the WPF version of something, NOT the Silverlight version, when this was supposed to be a Silverlight-specific book (and so was clearly written for the convenience of the author, not the audience being asked to pay good money for this irrelevant nonsense). I concluded by pointing out that two adjacent chapters had whole paragraphs of identical text, indicating both bad cut-and-paste writing and that no proof-reading at all had been done on the book.
To say the author wasn't happy with the 'honest' feedback he'd asked for is putting it mildly. I got the usual 'hero justification' about how many hours the author put into supporting the book, answering all his readers emails to correct things and help them, producing supporting screencasts and even downloadable extra chapters, speaking to community etc as if that were justification for selling a book that didn't meet its basic remit and which people were expected to pay a hefty fee for.
Apparently I was just a 'hater' for answering his direct question honestly instead of behaving like a shill and saying 'Your book's faaaabuloous, dahling'. The sad thing is that I actually think the author has talent, and could have produced a stunning book, if only his publishing company had bothered to get someone to do a bit of technical editing and proof-reading instead of trying to gouge the market by rushing a title to print before it was ready.
Accused of being alone in my opinions, I directed the author to the average Amazon UK review of just two stars (which contrasted wildly with that five star average on Amazon USA - hmmm! I wonder why!) I was accused of having written the three Amazon UK reviews which resulted in this average rating, along with the accompanying justifications from named readers, myself! Yeah, right (rolls eyes)!
When the author had had a few days to simmer down and deliberate on my feedback he came back to me and asked if I'd like to make the next book, intended to cover Silverlight 4, better by co-authoring it. I began to feel better about having given 'brutal, but honest' feedback. But I had to explain that I just didn't have the time. I know that technical book writing is a LOT of hard work. It pays peanuts and is really only recommended for those who want to boost their profile as a trainer or conference speaker, or help towards getting an MVP - I have no interest in either of these things! However I said that as a favour I'd be more than happy to help with technically reviewing the book, and doing some much-needed proof-reading on it.
Unfortunately the author didn't take me up on the offer.
The latest version of his book is now out, and as a simple exercise I decided to select a page at random (page 51) and critique it the way I would if I WERE a proof-reader. I think the results below speak volumes with regard to the current state of proof-reading in the technical book industry:
It's probably unfair to pick on this particular book, because I've seen much, much worse (and initial impressions are that the book is a HUGE improvement on the Silverlight 2 and Silverlight 3 versions, with the author actually having a very natural writing style)! If I'd tried the same exercise on a page from the Silverlight 4 User Cookbook (from Packt Publishing) for example, the snapshot of a page chosen would have made the original text unreadable for a sea of red corrections all over it, even if I ignored the fact the contents really didn't live up to the title at all and just concentrated on the appalling English.
The point I want to make is this: I really cannot understand why publishers spend so much time and expense in printing and marketing such titles without getting a native English speaker to at least proof-read the wretched thing before going to press, even if they can't technically evaluate it. Heck, I'll even do it for free if it stops some of the over-priced, incorrect dreck I've seen getting out into bookstores where it can do a lot of harm and just rips off punters who rightly expect far better value for money than they're getting.
I said about a year ago, I was going to stop making negative posts on this blog (which is why you've seen no comment on this blog about the whole Silverlight 4 vs HTML 5 fiasco that Microsoft have stirred up), but there comes a point where you just have to ask why we as an industry put up with this crap.
Last night I started reading seven 'alpha' chapters from an Apress book dedicated exclusively to MVVM and which I had to pay £26 for to get in electronic form - and it's crap, clearly written by someone who doesn't care about his subject, doesn't have the depth of technical knowledge required, and hasn't got the writing skills necessary to produce something that educates his readers.
What I will say, to try and end on a positive note, is that I've recently read two Silverlight 4 books that, whilst still containing the sort of proof-reading errors I dislike intensely, are well worth the asking price for the technical information they contain and the obvious passion the authors have had about writing a good book that genuinely educates and even entertains. Those books are Silverlight 4 in Action by Pete Brown from Manning Publications, and Pro Business Applications with Silverlight 4 by Chris Anderson from Apress.
So far as I'm concerned, anything else with the word Silverlight in the title is pretty much an 'Avoid' and 'Don't waste your money on this' right now. No wonder illegal free pdf downloads are the first thing you see when you do a search on a Silverlight book title these days! :-(