Book Review: The Art of SQL

The Art of SQL
By Stéphane Faroult, Peter Robson

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know. – Donald Rumsfeld (Sun Tzu’s second millennium CE incarnation.)

The Art of SQL is no Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL. It’s far beyond that; it is well past even Practical PostgreSQL and the SQL Cookbook. Not only is it written for the experienced user, it is for the ambitious user, the one who wakes up with a smile trying to retain the n-dimensional join from their dream.

The excellent style of writing used is above O’Reilly par. Not only is the text concise and well edited, the book is organized very well. In a graceful and creative turn, the presentational style of the book is allusive to Sun Tzu’s Art of War; query diagrams, sample datasets, and business cases are rendered as plans of attack and battle formations in the Napoleonic era. The result is phenomenal, and structurally, this book is groundbreaking – no computer science book I’ve read prior has had so much attention paid to making its content engaging and enjoyable to consume – this is certainly not necessary, but it is a great indication of the overall quality of the book.

The book is SQL implementation agnostic and assumes the reader is interested in data integrity, extensibility, and scalability in the database. It assumes that you care, or want to care, whether you’re following third normal form. In fact, the implied understanding here is that an earnest investment in normalization will pay dividends in optimization. Only if you’re willing to perspire for it – it is an art, not a school of magic.

The SQL enthusiast will learn a lot from this book – perhaps a baffling amount. I absolutely cannot recommend it highly enough. It has been some time coming, the sort of thing that is an obvious boon when one considers that our ‘art’ has only been around for a few decades. We’ll get it right eventually, inspired by those like Faroult and Robson.