I've recently been leaning towards the Apress books for my learning needs, though in the past I've used Wrox, Sams and o'reilly amongst others. I know this might just be personal preference but are certain publishers more/less stringent on quality? Do boks from certain publishers have a certain 'feel'?

Just curious as I'm a student so buying a £30 book is still a stop and think event.


Yes. Some Microsoft Press books that I've purchased have had terrible quality. O'Reilly appears to be pretty good, but I've not read many of their books.

+8  A: 

To me this is almost as saying "I only watch films from Universal". E.g. Microsoft Press is mentioned here as bad, but they are the publisher of Code Complete, a really great book. I'm sure likewise you can find bad books from Apress and O'Reilly. Buy books by authors or recommendation, not publishers. As movie studios, publishers mostly are there for funding and they will all have some bad and some good books. Therefore it's a bad metric to go buy when buying books. Check out some of the recommended lists here on stackoverflow.

Regardless of this, there probably are some publishers that are consistently bad, Steve Yegge has a post that touches on this subject:

Have you noticed how occasionally a publisher will intrude into your consciousness as being exceptionally good (or bad)?

Example: I think of SAMS publishing as being an atrociously bad publishing house. I've bought a few of their titles and have been uniformly horrified at the quality. The books are typically thrown together by multiple authors, each writing different chapters. The authors are evidently unaware of each others' existence, and they often wind up covering the same material redundantly in different chapters -- sometimes even with conflicting terminology or outright contradictions. I just visited their website to make sure it was really Sams, and yep, most of their books have anywhere from two to ten authors. Trust me: just stay away from them.


O'Reilly is the Starbucks/McDonalds of technical publishing. You know you're getting consistent quality -- not necessarily great quality, but it's consistent. And more importantly, you're getting a consistent experience. You know what to expect. A big, ugly creature on the cover, that's what you should expect. They won't assume you know any math, which is a good thing, because I do all my basic arithmetic using a desk calculator now (M-x calc!). They don't assume anything other than that you're marginally familiar with the English language and that you don't really have much time to spare. Just like Starbucks and McDonalds.

+2  A: 

My advice is to try to get your hands on the book you want to buy before you buy it. Go to a local bookstore or library and see if they have it. As an example, I was ready to purchase "The Little Schemer" but decided to check it out in the bookstore. Once I opened it I realized that the layout is very, very different and would not serve as a good reference book. If seeing the book in person is not possible, check out reviews online of the book and pay particular attention to the criticism. As far as publishers go, O'Reilly is one of the only publishers I'd buy from sight unseen.

Kyle Cronin

@mreggen, kindly read what I wrote, I "watch films" regardless of studio but I've found an affinity for one, I see no notion of your suggested fanboyism in questioning my own preferences through asking like minded people their thoughts.

+1  A: 

You will find the difference in quality of programming books cannot be predicted by publisher.

The best books are the same books that people recommend again and again. Most others are simply a re-hash of the good ones, or aren't worth reading at all.

Justin Standard

I agree that the publisher is not necessarily a good predictor of the quality of a book. I personally like Apress a lot because they are thorough and easy to follow. I have one on VB.NET 2005 and one on ASP.NET 3.5, and both have been very useful. I've also read books from Wrox that have been pretty good.

For my last couple book purchases I went into the bookstore and spent an hour flipping through the ones they had on the topic I wanted, and chose based on that.

Chris Tybur
+1  A: 

To state the obvious, any publisher can produce garbage or a treasure. I find certain publishers have strong areas and in all honesty some publishers dish out poor book after poor book. Any book I purchase gets researched first. When researching I start looking at my favorite publishers, then move from there.


Why not subscribe to one of the electronic bookshelfs such as safari ( For around a tenner a month you can get access to full online copies of books from a wide range of publishers. I use it to preview books before I buy them, and it's handy for having access to material I might only periodically need to read.

+1  A: 

Initially I was going to suggests similar to others that it is not really possible to say one publisher is better than another. Then I looked up to my book shelf and saw that nearly 90% of the books on there are either O'Reilly or Addison Wesley and I thought perhaps I was wrong.


There are definitely some publishers that are more dedicated to producing quality books than others.

If I were to make an ascending general book quality scale it would look like this:

  • Wrox - Usually terrible
  • Sams
  • Manning
  • Microsoft Press
  • Apress
  • O'Reilly
  • Prentice Hall
  • Addison Wesley - Usually excellent

I honestly can't imagine buying a Wrox book for anything other than a monitor stand.


O'Reilly books have always been worth their cost, for me. YMMV.

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