Book Review: Drupal 7 Views Cookbook

Note: this book has been updated since this review was written. The author contacted me to let me know that many of the issues I mention below have since been corrected.

As the explosive growth of Drupal continues, so does the eco-system of vendors and products around it. Included is the plethora of Drupal books that continues at a somewhat unbelievable pace. It seems that there are at least two to three new releases each month. Unfortunately, in the rush to quench the tech community's thrist for Drupal knowledge, sometimes less-than-stellar books are being served up before they're fully baked (cooking pun #1).

J. Ayen Green's Drupal 7 Views Cookbook needed a little more time in the oven (cooking pun #2), as I found numerous inconsistancies, minor errors, and not-best-practice advice. It's unfortunate, as Mr. Green has written some tasty (cooking pun #3) books in the past (Drupal 6 Attachment Views, Drupal 6 Content Adminstration), as well as numerous articles in Drupal Watchdog. Drupal 7 Views Cookbook isn't a total loss though, as aspiring Drupalists who struggle to learn Views will definitely be able to gain knowledge from the book if they can get past the sometimes obvious inconsistancies and bad advice.

Granted, Mr. Green started writing the book during a very dynamic time in the Views project - the migration from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7, as well as the interface update introduced in Views 3.x, so he was working with a moving target. This doesn't explain why "contextual filters" are often referred to in the book as "dynamic filters" - a simple search and replace could have solved this problem in about 30 seconds. I can imagine readers of the book who are new to Drupal frantically searching the Views interface for the "dynamic filters" options.

I also put some blame on the book's editors - in this case there weren't enough cooks in the kitchen (cooking pun #4). I found a bunch of simple mistakes that should have been found and corrected that will certainly lead to confusion for aspiring Drupalists. For example, on page 36, one of the recipes calls for the user to "Click on the Add link next to Fields". In the next several steps it was obvious that it should read " to Filters" - but for readers new to Drupal, I fear will be terribly confusing. Little things like this can spoil the soup (cooking pun #5), and there's no excuse for the book's editors to miss obvious errors like this. As I was reading the book, it was also clear to me that many sections could have been vastly improved with additional screenshots. Portions of the book were really text-heavy, and a few screenshots to break things up (and provide sanity checks for users going through the exercises) would have really sweetened the pie (cooking pun #6).

There are also numerous recipes that exercise bad judgement - and encourage the reader to do the same - including hacking core. In one example, I fully understood what Mr. Green was getting at (he was introducing the concept of overriding a CSS style), but having the user make changes to a core theme sets a bad example for readers. At the very least, he should have included a warning that this is not a "best practice" and only included for brevity (and maybe include a link to the right way to override a style). The "Creating Views Programmatically" chapter has a similar issue. The first part of the chapter talks about writing a view by hand - literally typing in a view's object description line-by-line instead of using the UI - has anyone ever actually done this? A much better option would have been to describe the process for making a minor change to the view in the object code - something that is not unheard of.

Then there were the obvious errors. The most obvious was for a recipe description that was completely different than the actual recipe. I suspect that at one time during the production of the book the recipe did exist as the description states, but it must have been modifed at a later point in the writing process, but the description didn't get updated along with it. As a seasoned Drupal developer and trainer, I was thrown by this and ended up re-reading the section three or four times before I figured out that it was just plain wrong. Imagine how confused newbie readers will be.

To top things off, the final section of the final chapter was titled, "Cloning a View" - I found this short section oddly placed, as the recipes in the book had been instructing the user to clone views literally from the first recipe. This stuck out to me like a sore thumb. Why wasn't this section in the first chapter?

I realize that I'm piling on a bit - I hesitated writing a review for this book at all, knowing that it wasn't going to be all cookies and candy (cooking pun #7), but I really think that authors and publishers of some Drupal books need to step it up a bit. It took me about 4 hours to go through the book and find these (in my opinion) obvious errors. If Packt is charging $40 for this book, shouldn't they at least do the same? It scares me a little bit that people new-ish to Drupal will read books like this with obvious issues and assume that this is the way things are done in the Drupal community.

As I said at the outset, the book may help some aspiring Drupal site builders learn Views. The book offers a gentle introduction to the various concepts of Views, slowing adding complexity as the reader progresses through the book. The way Mr. Green introduces and explains Views Relationships is especially effective - and one of the best I've seen. Can I recommend this book - not at this time. Perhaps the publisher will take the time to make improvements and offer a version 2.

I just finished listening to the Modules Unraveled podcast with J. Ayen Green and he mentioned that some of the early chapters didn't get updated properly as he was making changes based on Views 3.x. An errata page is available.


Good to finally see a critical review of a Drupal book--it's the first one I've personally seen, despite some books in real need of some.
Packt Publishing really needs to improve the editing and oversight of its books; there are others that needed major improvement as well.

Submitted by Guest (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2012 - 19:18

I have been looking for some drupal books on Views. I am glad I found one. Its great to find a very useful review. I will check out the book because I have been having alot of trouble trying to understand views and to try to make it do what I want it to do. I prefer to read a real book than electronic books. Vic

Submitted by Vic Stathopoulos (not verified) on Wed, 05/02/2012 - 06:37

This is a very helpful review. I think the publishing date was delayed by a few months so I am surprised they didn't fix more stuff in that time. I will still get the book if only because I don' think there is another book on D7 Views. Of course it is expensive to reprint books but I wonder if Packt will correct the mistakes in the PDF version since this would cost nothing. The 'errata page' is really a pre-electronic and out-dated method.

By the way the stars at the top of the review are a bit confusing - normally in a review they would be the reviewer's stars for the book but I worked out that here they are the commenters' feedback on the review.

Submitted by Ju (not verified) on Thu, 05/03/2012 - 04:00

Good review.
I fully agree with this review, I bought the book to learn quickly about filters and relationships in views, but I'm solving my doubts by goggling instead of by what I learned trough the book. My personal guess is that It isn't worth the money, lots of mistakes and I'll say, too much verbose and too few images, specially interface ones that will help to figure out about the recipes steps.

Thanks, Mike for having the courage to post a negative review of this book: many people would have given a positive review just on the basis that they're fans of Drupal.

Packt Publishing are, in my experience, the worst-quality publishers for technical books on the planet. Many of the problems you describe are the result of week, or non-existent, technical editing, presumably to save money & get something 'out there' quickly.

As for Drupal being a moving target for authors, I don't know what the answer is, except to have electronic copies of the book that get updated by the author on a regular basis and made available to original purchasers free or at a discount.

I look forward to seeing more of your reviews Drupal books.

Submitted by Alan Rew (not verified) on Thu, 05/17/2012 - 13:07

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