Authors: Paul Della Maggiora & Jim Doherty
Publisher: Cisco Press
Reviewed by: Ben Evans
This book is not what I was expecting.
I was expecting a technical introduction, or perhaps a cram guide. It is neither of those things.
In fact it is hard to see exactly for whom the book was written.
Too high-level to be of much use to someone with any technical familiarity with the subject, too shallow to be of help to a student (except as a jumping-off point, or source of keywords for search engines) it also has an amount of detail which would put off a number of managers of my acquaintance.
In some ways, it is a victim of its subject matter. For example, everyone knows what a poor fit the OSI model is to the protocols that comprise todays Internet, yet a book like this is required to mention the model. The resulting section is inevitably awkward and contrived, although the authors' wit and light touch almost win it back (the first book mention I've seen of layer 9 of the OSI model - the Technical Religion layer - brought a smile to my face).
The real problems are the numerous technical errors - most of which are definitely the sins of mission and Convenient Lies, but I can see a wayward manager becoming easily confused by some of the content. For example, IANA does not mandate what I may or may not run on any given port on my machines. Port 23 may conventionally be used for telnet, but I can run HTTP, SMTP or Herman's Doohickey Protocol there should I so desire.
Then again, there are are some excellent descriptions given, such as the short section on multicast. The range of material is also a strength - going far beyond just theoretical networking and TCP/IP but into optical tech, issues with WAN, etc. Not enough detail is given for the reader to actually do anything with the technologies mentioned, but as a 40,000 feet view of what's out there, it manages very well.
The authors obviously know their subject very well, and explain it beautifully in places, making a welcome change from the dull prose which is usually foisted on this subject. The illustrations, however, are somewhat inconsistent - in places very apt - in others seeming to bear little relationship to the text. In a more technical work, this might matter less, but here it just adds to the strain on the book as a whole.
The book presents a view of its subject matter which is reminiscent of that from the corporate jet, and so those few technical details which are presented are badly fragmented. The end result is that the engineering and science which underly the whole topic of networking is wholly obscured, and instead the whole business seems like a collection of barely-related, learn-by-rote facts and voodoo.
Ultimately, I am sure that I am not the target audience for the book, but I am left wondering who is. On the basis that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I worry that aspects of this work will do more harm than good.