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Book Review: Unix in a Nutshell, 4th edition
Arnold Robbins has earned the right to be on anyone's list of favorite Unix authors. Among his oeuvre, his Unix in a Nutshell is my favorite.
While the 3rd edition, published in 1999, covered SVR4 and Solaris 7, the new edition delves into GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and Solaris 10. I will not even try to communicate the massive changes between the two editions; the book's preface outlines the changes in detail.
Among the changes, Robbins has dropped coverage of the Bourne shell. I wish he had kept the converage as some Unix variants require the use of the Bourne shell in startup scripts.
However, don't purchase this book because it's going to teach you to be a better shell programmer; buy this book because it is the quintessential Unix reference covering general Unix commands. The Unix Commands chapter alone is your value.
The Unix Commands chapter, fully one-third of the book, covers common commands from
zipinfo. The chapter concludes with alphabetical summaries of Solaris, GNU/Linux, and Mac OS X commands.
In the Preface, Robbins claims that his audience "is geared toward people who are already familiar with the Unix system". While he's not teaching introductory shell programming, I think his introductory remarks are too conservative. The Unix Commands chapter is perfect for a motivated beginner. At your leisure, page through this chapter and discover just what Unix can do. Think of it as the MAN pages on steroids — a strong description with good examples.
Not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Some reviewers think the book covers too much material — especially in the Unix Commands chapter. While I'm not changing my mind, it's an argument worth considering. If, by chance, you can peruse the book before buying, read the
stty command description (page 196). (The
stty command, set the options for a terminal, with a large number of options, is arguably the least portable of Unix commands). If this
stty explanation passes muster, chances are you'll like the rest of the book.
Since the early 90s, this book has resided within my small Unix reference enclave. I think it belongs in yours. -Ed Schaefer