Python Tricks book review

Posted by Bob on Tue 31 January 2017 in Books

A review of Dan Bader's Python tricks book:

Discover Python’s Best Practices with Simple Examples and Start Writing Beautiful & Pythonic Code

Take your Python to the next level

I found out about this book through Dan's Python Tricks I get via email / Twitter. The book defines:

Python Trick: A short Python code snippet meant as a teaching tool. A Python Trick either teaches an aspect of Python with a simple illustration, or serves as a motivating example to dig deeper and develop an intuitive understanding.

I really enjoyed reading Dan's book. He explains important Python aspects with clear examples (using two twin cats to explain "is" vs "==" for example). It is not just code samples, it discusses relevant implementation details comprehensibly.

Since this talk by Raymond Hettinger I am more conscious about writing Pythonic code. This book cares too. Most tricks show the "one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it" (import this), for example how to merge dicts, or for dict access use try/except (EAFP style) but prefer dict.get() as being even more precise. The beginner gets into Pythonic mode, the expert might still pick up new stuff. Another good book in this context is Effective Python: 59 Specific Ways to Write Better Python.

Few things I learned (refreshed)

  • Language features section: the "is" vs "==" I mentioned, dictionary internals, deep vs shallow copy. The article on 4 ways of string formatting is awesome. I like Dan’s Python String Formatting Rule of Thumb:

    If your format strings are user-supplied, use Template Strings to avoid security issues. Otherwise, use Literal String Interpolation if you’re on Python 3.6+, and "New Style" String Formatting if you’re not.

  • Cleaner Python section (my favorite part of the book): use your own exceptions (which we used here), ABC's (we used here), the key func of sorted() (we used here), which is shown with both lambda and operator.getitem syntax, refactoring an ugly switch statement.

  • Pythonic syntactic sugar section: * and ** (splat) function arg unpacking (very Pythonic), various (stdlib) ways to merge dicts.

Now is better than never (import this)

And more so because you can still get it for a lower early-access price, eventually the final version of the book will cost more.

Keep in mind this is a work in progress. I did find the initial version of 60 pages a bit short, but recently I got an update of 25+ pages so the final version will be longer.

What really matters though is that this book makes you write better Python code! The book is actually responsible for recent new good py habits I picked up, for example: using custom exceptions and ABC's (I found Dan's blog searching for abstract classes). These new learnings alone are worth the price.

Thanks Dan for sharing your great work.

>>> next(PyBites)

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