Review: “Git Pocket Guide” by Richard E. Silverman

Switching to Git after years using SVN, I had trouble finding my way around the new environment even though I only need pretty basic source control. I didn’t “get it”, and things that should have been easy were difficult.

Two earlier books, both acknowledged by Mr. Silverman in his preface, helped, but in striving for completeness they both obscured the basic instruction I needed in an enormous wealth of detail.

A “pocket guide” seemed just the ticket, and the author’s intent, stated in the preface, showed a lot of promise:

“The primary goal of this book is to provide a compact, readable introduction to Git for the new user, as well as a reference to common commands and procedures that will continue to be useful once you’ve already gotten some Git under your belt.”

He accomplished his goal by half, I think. Although compact and readable, the book suffers (mildly) from a lack of clarity that, for me, prevents its use as a reference. Take this:

“If the current branch is tracking an upstream in that remote, Git then tries to reconcile the current state of your branch with that of the newly updated tracking branch. If only you or the upstream has added commits to this branch since your last pull, then this will succeed with a “fast-forward” update: one branch head just moves forward along the branch to catch up with the other.”

There’s nothing wrong with that paragraph in terms of narrative flow, but if you try to use it as instruction you notice it has a lot of subjects taking action — “the current branch”, “Git”, “you”, “the upstream”, “this”, “one branch head” — and among all those actors doing things it’s hard to sort out what YOU need to do in order to make something happen.

The author’s two goals may conflict unavoidably, so I don’t want to fault him too much. He’s produced an easy-to-read narrative overview of a technology but I’ll be going back to the thick versions for an easy-to-use reference guide.

I don’t mean to say this is a bad book. It’s not — it’s pretty good. But rather than being one I keep handy when I need to remember how to do something, it’s a book I got a lot out of the first time through but probably won’t pick up again.

This book was provided to me through O’Reilly Media’s Blogger Review Program. It’s available for purchase at O’Reilly Media.