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“Concise Guide to Databases” – briefly about everything

There are books that you plan to read. Then, there are books that you actually started reading and then stopped. Then, there are books you started reading and you hope to finish sometime. The last database book I did read was “Concise Guide to Databases” by Peter Lake and Paul Crowther.

As title suggests this is not a book that dwells deeply into one specific aspect of DB theory or technology, quite the opposite. So if you want to master one topic that you work on this is not the book for you. If you have to write a specific piece of code using this-and-that then this is not the book you need right now. However, you may be interested in this book if you are a database newcomer or if you want to get a bigger picture of databases in general. Also, if you want to look at new solutions in DB business that could suit your company then you may be interested in this book. Personally, I read this book out of curiousity.

In the first chapter the story begins with the no SQL papyrus-based databases of ancient Egyptians about 2800 BC and goes all the way down to modern times. This historical account is one of my favorite parts of the book. It was illuminating to see how people dealt with information with no computer at hand. Then we move into the computer era and everything is more familiar.

The following chapters aim to describe the variety of databases types. There is a fair part on relational databases but I would say that the real value of the book is in presenting almost every possible way of constructing databases – we have Object, NOSQL, Big Data, Cloud or In-Memory Databases. Of course the book has about three hundred pages so don’t expect to master any of these topics. The emphasis is put on showing diversity in the databases area so the presentation cannot be in the usual theoretical textbook style. There is rather a solid motivation component for each of the database types. Often, the book references some recent cases or articles which can provide further reading. Then there is a comparison of some implementations and, finally, the “hands-on” part. This is also an appealing idea. You are guided by hand with installing the system and then making some simple use of it. The book is from 2013 so these examples still work. So, if you want, for example, to write your first MapReduce algorithm you have a chance. Once again, this is rather to show how it works at a high level and not to master the technique.

The last part considers various administrative aspects of databases: availability, tuning, security etc. We are back in the relational databases world but we follow the same tested pattern: some recent examples and excerpts from new articles and some exercises with a database implementation.

In summary, if you are a student who needs to pass his or her DB exam there are probably books that give you a better preparation. If you work with DBs and want to be more efficient in what you are doing then you probably know more than this book covers. But if you want to see new approaches, to check out some recent news and articles then you may like this book. This book may be useful if you are starting out on your DB journey and want to quickly get to know what is it all about. I would say that you don’t need to be an IT man to enjoy reading this book. In the end, databases should now become just another part of a humanistic curriculum. They already affect everyone’s everyday life.

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