Book Ratings

The best an N-star rating system can do is be self-consistent. While I definitely don’t want to reduce whole books to a single number, being able to bucket them into broad categories is useful for comparisons and for prioritizing. I like easily see levels of greatness, so my 5 stars are weighted towards differentiating the best of the best. 1 star: Actively Bad. Some books are just frustrating, or wrong, or useless. Some books are so poorly written as to engender immediate distaste. These are 1-star, bad books. It’s not useful to distinguish between levels of bad, it’s just enough to say that they aren’t recommended for anyone. 2 star: Average; disappointing. There are a lot of 2-star books out there. They talk about a subject – they’re competent, if not insightful. They make do. I say they’re “disappointing” because, when I pick a book out to read, I’m hoping that it will be 3-star or higher. So 2 stars, while okay, signals that it wasn’t all I thought it would be. These are books that you might recommend because you don’t know of anything better for a topic: “I read this book. It didn’t wow me, but it worked.” 3 star: Good for a topic. These are the better books in a topic – those that present it well, or treat it interestingly. These are ones with particular expertise or communication. These are the books that are easy to recommend. “You’re working on X? I liked these books…” 4 star: Critical reading for a topic. But some books go even further. Some books do so well at their topic that they really define it. It’s hard to imagine talking about the subject without having the background of the book. While you recommend them with “You should read this book!” you also find yourself asking, “What do you think of this book?” – simply assuming that people with an interest in this area have been introduced to it. 5 star: Critical reading for all. Some books are just so useful or insightful that they go beyond a subject area and become keystones of any book collection (and while I say any book collection, I really mean any software book collection – I won’t presume that my ‘critical reading’ is still critical reading for a detective, unless they also write software). This is, deservedly, the smallest bucket of books, but also the most life-changing. These are the books you recommend with, “You absolutely have to read this!”

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