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I’m sure you’ll agree, learning any new language (programming language or otherwise) is not an easy task.
Yet despite the sheer number of freely available Java blogs and tutorials, people still like to know what the best Java books are for beginners.
And this is why:
Java books are written by programmers who have an in-depth knowledge of the subject and secondly, the subject is often covered in more detail with more thorough explanations than the stuff you find on the web.
Moreover, a book on Java is a one stop shop for most of the knowledge that you need to become a Java programmer.
So, here’s my personal recommendations on the best Java books for beginners.
My personal favourite is not a complete beginners guide, but it’s probably the best Java book ever written in my opinion.
The book is called Effective Java by Joshua Bloch and I still use the book to this day to refer to best practices.
My favourite beginners book though is Head First Java for its unique, creative approach, which is the first book on my list. A lot of effort has gone on here to make this book engaging and entertaining yet hugely informative.
Although these two are my personal favorites, you won’t go far wrong with any of these books and each of them has its own merits.
If you have found a particularly good Java book that has helped you to learn Java that I haven’t included here, then let me know in the comments and I’ll add it in so that everyone can benefit.
OK, so here’s my recommended Java books for beginners:
First up then is Head First Java (Amazon). Head First Java is not like any other Java book, because like the other Head First books, the information is presented to you in visually rich format designed around how the brain works and processes information.
Having read a number of Java books myself, this one is probably the best for beginners. What I like about this book is that it explains the subject in terms of things that you come across in everyday life.
For example it likens loops and conditional statements to scooping ice cream out of a tub until there’s no ice cream left. So you can see that it explains some of the concepts using analogies which I think really helps when you’re first learning.
The book covers the core language and Object Oriented Programming (OOP) concepts in detail and best of all, the book really holds your attention and keeps things interesting.
- Fantastic illustrations – visually engaging brain friendly format
- Covers the latest Java APIs (Java 8)
- Explanations relate to real-life concepts
- Excellent for beginners
- Puzzles and exercises not realistic, but help you learn
This book by Herbert Schildt as the name suggests, is written for beginners. But if you’re totally new to programming, then you probably need the Head First Java book above, but if you have a little bit of knowledge about programming, then it’s a great read.
The book starts off by outlining the origins of Java, how it relates to other programming languages and explains core concepts like Inheritance and Polymorphism in plain English, using analogies as it goes along.
The book then gets into doing a simple “hello world” program, how to compile it and explains the code line by line.
The book then progresses onto simple data types, loops, classes and objects, control statements and code layout best practices (like indentation).
One of the best things I like about this book is the self test at the end of each chapter. It also covers lamda expressions and function interfaces which are part of the latest version of Java (Java 8 at the time of writing).
- Great self-test exercises at the end of each chapter
- Covers the latest Java APIs (Java 8)
- Comprehensive at over 700 pages
- Need a little knowledge of programming, but Java experience is not necessary
Core Java is really a reference book, but it’s simple to read, so you could read it from cover to cover if you wanted too, or just use it for reference.
As you’d expect from the title, the book covers core Java very well, with detailed explanations throughout.
Each chapter deals with a different aspect of Java. So the first chapter gives you an introduction to the language, the second is all about the Java programming environment and then it moves onto data structures, objects and classes, Inheritance and so on.
There’s chapters on Swing too so you can get to grips with building small desktop-based applications and there’s also a brief chapter on Jars, Applets and deploying your applications.
What I like about this book, is that it also covers collections and generics in great detail, which I think is important given how much these things are actually used in the real world.
- Detailed explanations throughout
- Covers collections and generics in great detail – useful for the real world
- Comprehensive at over 1000 pages
- Covers the latest Java APIs (Java 8)
- Not for complete beginners – you need some experience in programming
I love the “for dummies” books because everything is explained in a straightforward way rather than baffling you with science!
And this book is no different. It’s split up into five parts and multiple chapters in each part taking you from setting up your computer, writing your first Java programs through to switches, loops, objects, classes and GUI’s.
The final part recommends some useful online resources for taking your knowledge further and outlines ten of the most useful classes you’ll come across in the Java API.
One of the things that stand out for me in this book is the images and screenshots. Good images are particularly important when you’re first starting out and this book makes good use of them.
The book also has some really good diagrams in it, visually explaining how your code actually executes on a CPU (Central Processing Unit) and explains the differences between source code and byte code which is generated by the compiler.
It’s a personal choice though which IDE you choose to work with.
I suggest using Eclipse whilst you go through this book and then once you have a bit of experience in Java, consider using Intellij.
- Great images and diagrams!
- Covers the latest Java APIs (Java 8)
- Great for novices – no programming experience required
- Short – not as comprehensive as some of the other books
- Recommends the Eclipse IDE – in my opinion that are better IDE’s available such as Intellij
I can tell you now that it’s not possible to learn Java in a single day, but this book will allow you to grasp the fundamentals a bit quicker rather than having to wade through a 2000 page book.
In the book, some of the more complex concepts are broken down into simple steps so that you can easily get to grips with the language even if you have no knowledge of coding.
Topics covered include object-oriented programming, error handling techniques, file handling techniques and more. The book also covers the newer features of Java like lambda expressions, default methods etc.
One of the great things about this book is that it gets straight to the point, although some people might prefer more detail and more lengthier explanations which the previous books provide.
The book also focuses on “learning by doing” which I totally agree with.
There’s no substitute for practical experience and reading a Java textbook will not instantly turn you into a programmer.
So at the end of the book you’ll find a project to complete which requires that you have understood all the concepts taught throughout the book.
This will definitely help you to retain the knowledge you have learned once you have used it in a practical context.
- The book gets straight to the point
- Focuses on “learning by doing” – encourages practical experience
- Covers the latest Java APIs including lambda expressions, default methods etc
- Requires no knowledge of coding
- Perhaps too basic for some. Doesn’t give you the in’s and out’s of everything
This book is really intended for use in conjunction with the “MyProgrammingLab” online Java course but it can still be used as a useful reference book and for self-study.
The approach this book takes is quite different than the other books here in that the various concepts are taught in the context of actual working programs and introduces objects early on (hence early objects).
This I think is important and the sooner you get used to thinking in terms of objects the better off you’ll be.
One thing I will say about this book, is that it is very comprehensive, over 1000 pages in total.
Everything is covered in huge detail, it takes you from an introduction to computers, Java, the Internet and objects, through to control statements, loops and collections.
The book even goes into detail around the method-call stack and stack frames, which is very detailed.
The things that stand out for me in this book is that it also deals with Java 8, accessing databases using JDBC (which is super useful and important to be able to do) and concurrency. All good stuff.
Perhaps it’s only downfall is that there’s probably too much detail here to digest, but would make an excellent reference book.
- Can be used with or without the “MyProgrammingLab” online Java course
- Introduces objects early on in the book
- Very comprehensive, over 1000 pages
- Covers Java 8, accessing databases using JDBC and concurrency
- Possibly too much detail for beginners
As the title suggests, this book is aimed at absolute beginners and takes you step-by-step through writing your first ever Java program with full explanations along the way.
Key topics include the basics of Java, writing your first program and there’s a section on which IDE to choose (tip: use Intellij).
Contained within the book are no less than 57 practical examples which help to explain each topic and make it easy to understand.
The output of each example is also provided so that you can compare your own results with the model results.
This book will give you the absolute basics you need to know to begin writing your own code and programs, but it’s by no means as comprehensive as the other books here.
That said, if you want a book that gives you the minimum that you need to get going on your journey to becoming a Java developer, then this book does exactly that.
It’s a book that gets straight to the point.
- Aimed at absolute beginners, no programming experience required
- Lots of practical examples which help explain the concepts
- Not as comprehensive as some of the other books
Any book that is written for kids has to be easy to understand, which is why I have included this book. However, not only is this book useful for kids, it’s also useful for those that are completely new to programming and even parents that want to teach their kids programming.
Given that programming is now part of the modern day curriculum (especially in the UK), this is definitely a book worth getting.
What I like about this book is the lovely colorful images which kids and adults alike will appreciate.
The book takes you through step-by-step how to get things setup, how to run the “hello world” program and also how to do fun things like print words on the screen using a bunch of asterisks.
In chapter 3, the author introduces Java classes but keeps it interesting by creating a class called “VideoGame”, which is something most people can relate to.
Throughout the book are detailed explanations as to what is going on and more complex topics such as Inheritance are explained in terms of things that you seen in everyday life.
For example it explains that Java Inheritance is similar to how we inherit features from our parents.
I don’t think Java could be explained more simply than in this book and the author also points out some “additional reading” at the end of each chapter to take your knowledge further.
One thing I don’t like is that the author recommends the NetBeans IDE, which isn’t the best, but then again it’s personal preference and maybe a good IDE to start off with.
- Lots of colorful images
- Step-by-step instructions throughout
- Keeps things interesting for kids and adults alike – relates to video games!
- Super simple explanations with great analogies
- Recommends the NetBeans IDE – personal choice though 😉
This book is currently used at colleges, universities and high schools and has been written for those that have had either little or no programming experience.
As the title says, the book not only teaches you Java, it also helps you think like a computer scientist.
So the book focuses on ideas taken from computer science and also focuses on the problem solving aspect of programming and treats Java and general programming as a tool to help craft solutions.
The chapters in this book aren’t huge, but they’re very informative and easy to follow. For example the first chapter talks about what a programming language actually is and also things that are common to all languages such as debugging.
The book then moves onto variables, keywords, conditional operators and loops.
The latter chapters of the book discuss objects in considerable detail including how to create your own objects and object-oriented programming as a whole.
What I like about this book is its approach. It doesn’t matter what language you learn in my opinion, it’s the mindset and the logical approach that you take that counts more than the actual language.
The book is packed with code samples all the way through the book and are illustrated well to aid the understanding. There are also exercises at the end of each chapter so you can test your knowledge and gain some practical experience.
- Teaches not only programming but how to think logically and like a computer scientist
- Lots of code samples throughout and exercises at the end of each chapter
- Easy to follow
- Could be more images and diagrams to aid the explanations
Absolute Java is actually designed to be a reference book and the author aims this guide at undergraduate students who have some programming experience but no experience with the Java language.
Some of the chapters, like those at the beginning, serve as introductory chapters to the language, and these are accessible to beginners.
Also some of the chapters at the end are also geared towards beginners, so there’s a chapter on designing GUI layouts using an IDE and a walk-through of a simple drawing program.
However, many of the chapters throughout the book are for those that have a bit more of a grasp on the language and are looking at some of the more advanced topics like deep copy vs shallow copy and recursion and the stack for example.
So if you’re a total beginner, I would look to the other books, but if you’re looking to take your Java knowledge a bit further, perhaps to an intermediate sort of level, then you should get this book.
- Covers some advanced topics like recursion and the stack
- Walk-through of a simple drawing program
- Chapter on Graphical User Interfaces (GUI’s)
- You need some programming experience but not necessarily in Java
This book has been designed for use as an introductory course in computer science and some of the chapters go beyond this to a more advanced level.
What’s great is that this book has actually been used to teach undergraduates at the University of Washington, so it’s been tried and tested.
The approach this book takes is an “objects later” approach, so that readers get a chance to learn procedural programming first.
Later in the book, object-oriented programming is taught and so readers get the best of both worlds and get to learn about both styles of programming.
So the first seven chapters deal with programming fundamentals and it’s only when you get to chapter 8 do you learn about classes, inheritance, interfaces and collections etc.
There are code samples throughout to explain the concepts but there’s a lot of text in this book, which makes a great reference book, but not necessarily something I recommend reading through from cover to cover.
- Tried and tested – used to teach undergraduates at the University of Washington
- Lot’s of code samples which are explained well
- A lot of text – could be more images. Good reference book though
The author of this book has focused on a problem-solving and object-oriented approach to teaching Java.
When you start to read this book, you will learn basic programming concepts like loops, control statements and arrays before you learn object-oriented programming.
If you’re looking for something in depth, then this book is detailed from beginning to the end, with everything explained at great length.
The book is very well organised too, so the elementary stuff is at the beginning (like loops, arrays, strings etc) and then towards the end, there’s topics on multi-threading, networking and database programming.
You also get some bonus chapters on the web-based stuff like servlets, web services and JavaServer Pages which is great to see given that many websites and web applications on the web today are built using Java.
- Author takes a problem-solving and object-oriented approach to teaching Java
- Very detailed – everything explained in extreme depth
- Bonus chapters covering servlets, web services etc
- Maybe too much detail for beginners
- Too mathematical in parts
OK, so the books listed above are intended for beginners, but the following three books, although not for complete beginners, I had to recommend here because I think they should be on every self-respecting Java developers bookshelf!
Effective Java is written by Joshua Bloch, a software engineer formerly employed at Sun Microsystems and Google and was instrumental in designing and implementing many of the features in the Java Platform.
Now this is not a beginners book, but an absolute must have book for any Java developer and it has been updated to take advantage of the latest language features in Java 7, 8 and 9.
The great thing about Effective Java is that each chapter consists of several “items” which are presented in a short, stand-alone essay format that provides you with specific, actionable advice on the Java platform.
It also provides information on the subtleties of the Java language, which by knowing will help make you a better Java developer.
Also provided are comprehensive descriptions and explanations for each item which tell you the best practices to follow and things that you should avoid doing.
Each chapter is split out into the logical parts of the language such as objects, common methods to all objects (like toString, equals, hashcode etc), classes and interfaces, generics, enums and so on.
So for example, in one of the items, it explains why you should use enums rather than integer constants.
So it provides some really great advice which will help you write much better code.
Because of the way the book is arranged, it is easy to combine with one of the other books – that way you get the best of both worlds.
I strongly recommend you buy this book and digest it fully.
- Covers not only the “how” but also the “why”
- Each chapter is easy to digest
- Shows you all the best practices in Java programming
- Updated to cover the latest Java APIs
- Not for total beginners but a must for any Java developer
If I had to recommend just one reference book, I would choose this one because it literally has everything in it that you need to master the Java programming language.
Again this is not a book for complete beginners, but you will need to refer to it sooner or later once you start to get beyond some of the basics.
This book has been fully updated to cover the Java 8 APIs such as lambda expressions, the stream library and the default interface method.
It also covers the core language in detail from the syntax and keywords through to the fundamental programming principles common to most languages.
The book also covers things like JavaBeans, servlets, applets and swing and you also get some real-world examples of how these things work in practice.
Theoretically this is the only book you ever need as it’s over 1000 pages long, but I strongly recommend using it as a reference book and using it in conjunction with one of the other non-reference books that I’ve recommended.
Again, a must have for any aspiring Java developer.
- Updated to cover the latest Java APIs
- Huge at over 1000 pages
- Probably the best reference book
- Contains real world examples
- Not for total beginners, very detailed and very comprehensive
Who better to write a book on Java than the creators of the Java programming language.
In this classic book the authors (Ken Arnold, James Gosling, and David Holmes) cover most of the classes in the core Java packages like java.lang.*, java.util and java.io and there’s in-depth explanations around why these classes work as they do coupled with very informative examples.
In terms of the chapters then, the first chapter gives you a quick whistle-stop tour of the language if you’re unfamiliar with the concepts of object-oriented programming.
The following chapters then cover core features of the language such as class declarations, extending classes, how to declare interfaces etc.
Later chapters then deal with operators and expressions, generics, exceptions and regular expressions.
Towards the end of the book, the authors discuss annotations, reflection, garbage collection and other more advanced topics, which I think is super useful and not discussed in every book.
One thing I don’t like about this book is that it isn’t up to date in terms of the Java APIs and doesn’t include any of the latest Java 8 stuff.
That being said, the core principles and language are the same throughout all versions of the Java, so you can definitely learn lots from this book.
- Written by the creators of Java, including James Gosling!
- In-depth explanations covering “why” things are the way they are in Java
- Great examples
- Topics like annotations, reflection and garbage collection are discussed
- Not up to date with the latest Java APIs
So there’s my personal recommendations for learning Java and although reading Java books won’t turn you into a programmer over night, they will definitely help you in terms of the knowledge that you need.
From then on it’s down to you and making sure that you put the theory you have learnt into practice.
And of course many of the these books listed will help you gain that practical experience as you work your way through the exercises, puzzles and coding challenges etc.
Again, if there’s an awesome book that I haven’t included, let me know and I’ll add it to the list if it’s a great beginners book.
If you think any of these books will be beneficial to anyone you know that is beginning on their journey to learning Java, then please share this article with them.