Welcome, dear reader, to another book review at The Reactionary. As I mentioned in my last book review I’m working my way down the top hits on Amazon for the search term “react.js”.

I’m hoping this will help you to make the best possible purchases when it comes to building your React knowledge. This week we’ll be taking a look at “React Up & Running” by Stoyan Stefanov. You’ll find some links to purchase it on your local Amazon store right here:

I’ll start by saying, I really enjoyed this book. Although the last  book that I reviewed was also aimed at helping you get from being a beginner up to being an intermediate react developer, the approach that was taken in each of the books was slightly different.

Objectively, I’d say, you probably don’t need both this book as well as React Essentials in your library. However, each has it’s merits which might make one or the other more applicable to you. I’d say that if you’re on the fence then this difference in approach I just mentioned may be the deciding factor in your purchase.

Let’s go deeper and talk about these different approaches as well React Up & Running as a whole.


Who is this book for?

The book begins at a very low level of understanding in that it doesn’t assume anything about your previous experience in React.

The first page instructs you on how to install React and then it’s straight into building “Hello World”. By the end of page 3 you’ve built “Hello World” and you’re barrelling into ways to improve the app you’ve built so far. The chapter finishes by instructing you on how to install the React DevTools browser extension.

This first chapter really sets the pace and tone of the book. Each chapter starts with the assumption that you’ve no prior React knowledge, other than what you’ve already learned in previous chapters, and accelerates at what feels like a pretty rapid pace. At times you feel a bit like “Neo” learning kung-fu!

What’s interesting is how the author achieves this acceleration. He certainly doesn’t gain it by skimping on detail but rather he has obviously just taken the time and care to distill down the information to what’s important. What remains is only the detail you need to make yourself effective at building react applications “in the wild”.

Getting back to answering the question; who is this book for? I would suggest that this book is for anyone who already has a good handle on javascript and wants to pick up React and start building real applications in React straight away.

I’m imagining this would be perfect for a situation where your boss wanders up to at 3:30 on a Friday to talk to you about that new development that you’ll be starting next Friday and says

I’ve heard of this new framework, React. I think you should build that new development you’re about to start in react. Ok buddy? Great. Have a nice weekend

In that situation this book is going to get you up and running (clever title then, no?) very quickly. Not only that it will get you up to speed in such a way that you’ll be able to minimise the newbie mistakes that you would otherwise definitely make.

You know the ones I’m talking about it’s the ones where you look at it and damn that code and it’s author to hell…until you check the git log and find it was you 6 months ago, whoops.


Who this book isn’t for

I’d say there are two types of reader that this book isn’t for. The first is anyone without a working knowledge of javascript. I’m not saying there is vast amount of arcane javascript knowledge required to understand what is going.  At the same time, the author certainly doesn’t feel the need to explain what is going on in the code snippets right down to the very basic syntax level. Instead he remains focused on explaining what is happening with regards to React.

The other type of reader that this book probably isn’t for is anyone who likes to have their hand held through the content being presented to them. This book assumes that the reader is okay with just being presenting the relevant code snippet to what is currently being spoken about.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. By not feeling the need to show you every mundane detail involved in stitching the code together the author manages to cut straight to the point. This is part of how he achieves the velocity I was talking about before. Of course he doesn’t leave you completely out in the cold, he provides a github with the completed code in it but in terms of the code presented in the book, for the most part, it’s all straight to the point.

Id say that the way the code snippets are presented is kind of relevant to the javascript novice I was talking about too. In the previous book I reviewed  the author made a habit of providing a full code snippet for each file needed and then took the time to break each file down code block by code block to explain.

In React Up & Running you’re expected to have the ability to stitch the files together yourself or use the Github. This is part of that style difference I was talking about which may sway your decision on which one to buy.



Things I didn’t like about this book

When you’re reviewing something that is as lean in it’s delivery as “React: Up & running” it’s difficult to pin down things you don’t like about it in general terms, so I’ve had to go for specifics. As a result, these might sound petty but I think that is almost a compliment to the content.

“Chapter 6: Building an application”, I didn’t like it. Here’s why: I mentioned that the delivery of the book on a whole was lean and fast and this chapter was neither of these things.

When I first picked up the book I was planning on doing the same thing as I did for React Essentials (the last book I reviewed) which was sit down at my computer with the book and follow along. For that book it seemed to be a good way to do things and I found with that book it worked quite well for helping me to understand the concepts.

However, when I sat down with React: Up & running I looked at the content and realised that because there wasn’t large chunks of code throughout. I found that this made the book easy to read without having to go to the trouble of writing out the code to watch how it worked every step of the way.

But then Chapter 6 comes along and there are many pages containing large code snippets and I just found it to be a really jarring experience. I find it really difficult to read pages of just massive code blocks and as a result it’s not an effective way for me, personally, to learn. When this happens in technical books that’s where I tend to prefer to write the code out myself and see it running.

The problem for me was; by the time I got to Chapter 6 I had already decided to read the book on the tram in to work. So, I was stuck trying to keep myself awake reading massive blocks of code and trying desperately not to miss my stop!

After Chapter 6 the book returns to the format it was following previously and I was able to continue reading on the tram unabated. But this chapter was simply not as useful for the way I wanted to consume the book when compared with the rest of the chapters.


Things I did like about this book

I liked that the book seemed to aim itself at a reader whose specific purpose is trying to pick up React quickly in order to build their own apps in real life.

This book certainly feels like less of an academic excursion and more of a trade manual for working with React. The author shows his experience and expertise in the subject material by distilling the content down to a subset of things that you need to know to be an effective React developer.

If I could draw an analogy I’d say, imagine you’re an apprentice plumber learning to fit a kitchen sink. The way other books present their information would be like reading a text book on the way to fit most kitchen sinks. The way “React: Up & Running” presents the material is more like having a master plumber show you how to fit most kitchen sinks.

In both cases you’re learning to fit kitchen sinks but in the second scenario you’re also gain the experience of the master plumber. That’s what this feels like; it’s like having an expert walk you through the best ways they’ve found to do things. There’s no heavy details on why what they’ve shown you is best way, but you know that you’ll be safe following that advice at least until you have enough knowledge to form your own opinions.


Is it good or what?!

You probably already know where this is going based on the tone of this post. I like this book quite a bit. I think this book has a lot of practical advice that will get you on good footing to start working with React in a sensible way.

The book feels like it’s designed to give you the same sort of knowledge as if you were a senior developer and you asked another senior developer, who was skilled in React, to sit you down for a day and run you through React. In a day you’re only just going to work out enough to get going, but at least you’ll know you can trust the quality of the advice you’re going to get.

To sum it up, I think “React Up & Running” is a really accurate title and it’s how I’d like to learn React if I was just getting started.

Did you like the sound of this book? Why not pick up a copy?

Disclosure: In this review, and my last one, I’ve been using Amazon affiliate links so that if you purchase the books I review through the links then I get a measly percentage of the purchase from Amazon. This does not affect the impartial nature of my reviews but does go some way to supporting my efforts to make my way through the list of books.

If you’re thinking of buying one of the books I’ve reviewed I’d encourage you to use the affiliate links I’ve provided to purchase them to help support my efforts in making my way down the list. In return you can rest assured, if I don’t like one of the books I find on that list, you’ll hear about it. I have no interest in persuading you to invest in poor quality products for for the sake of a couple of pennies.