Best JavaScript Books for Beginners in 2020

JavaScript: The Definitive Guide  freshly released its new edition in August 2020. The book is about 30% smaller than the original.

JavaScript: The Definitive Guide freshly released its new edition in August 2020. The book is about 30% smaller than the original.

If you are planning to learn your first programming language after handling HTML and CSS basics, JavaScript is where it’s at.

If you feel overwhelmed by JS, remember that you are not alone! JavaScript is a little hard to learn for beginners. The key to successfully learn JS is to resist the temptation to go too fast and focus on the fundamentals.

Why Learn JavaScript?

You came here already with a desire to learn JavaScript, but let me help solidify the goal and make it clear — you absolutely want to learn Vanilla JavaScript before diving into JavaScript abstractions.

One of my favorite quotes from the Front-End Developer Handbook explains it best:

Learn the actual underlying technologies, before learning abstractions. Don't learn jQuery, learn the DOM. Don't learn SASS, learn CSS. Don't learn JSX, learn HTML. Don't learn TypeScript, learn JavaScript. Don't learn Handlebars, learn JavaScript ES6 templates. Don't just use Bootstrap, learn UI patterns.

While you have probably already heard of popular front-end frameworks like Angular and React, libraries like jQuery, HTML-in-JavaScript abstractions like JSX, or JavaScript enhancers like TypeScript (for TypeScript book recommendations, I have them here), you are best set for success by learning the underlying technologies: plain, old Vanilla JavaScript.

If you don’t have a solid grasp of the basics, JavaScript code is harder to write and understand.

In this article, we put the spotlight on the best books for learning JavaScript for beginners through a collection of book reviews.

Each book review will highlight the taste of the book, contents covered, and how it can benefit you. And because technologies change so fast, I have selected books focusing on modern versions of JavaScript that cover ES6 (or ECMAScript 2015) or later.

When learning JavaScript, you want to prioritize modern JavaScript concepts as well as traditional concepts. Because Javascript is always backwards compatible, the roots of JavaScript always remain. The nature of JavaScript being backwards compatible makes it a nuanced and challenging language to learn. 

What Makes the Best Books on JavaScript?

JavaScript has changed a lot over the past few years, which is why the main criteria for the best JavaScript books for beginners are recently released.  Eloquent JavaScript  was released in December 2018 and teaches modern JavaScript principles.

JavaScript has changed a lot over the past few years, which is why the main criteria for the best JavaScript books for beginners are recently released. Eloquent JavaScript was released in December 2018 and teaches modern JavaScript principles.

Although there are many online courses and resources, learning from books is still the best way to master JavaScript. The books we have reviewed meet the following criteria:

  • Use clear, precise, and easy-to-understand language. At Books on Code, we prioritize books that are a joy to read and bring small moments of humor and delight.

  • Teaches modern JavaScript

  • Thoroughly teach and explain the most important JavaScript concepts

  • Contain practice problems and questions for you to work on your own

  • Engaging and able to hold the attention of readers

  • Structured and friendly toward self-taught programmers

The following are the best books on JavaScript for beginners.

 

Book 1: JavaScript: The Definitive Guide: Master the World's Most-Used Programming Language

JavaScript: The Definitive Guide absolutely must be mentioned. It has been lauded and praised as a classic JavaScript book, but now it’s worth picking up again because it has a fresh August 2020 edition.

This title is about 700 pages and has the goal of serving as a complete JavaScript reference — perfect for getting a deep understanding of JavaScript for not just beginners, but for intermediate and advanced coders. Despite its large size, the edition of this book was cut significantly from the previous version.

This book has stood the test of time. Readers love JavaScript: The Definitive Guide for its simple, elegant explanations of complex topics. At its now-7th edition, this book is tried and tested.

Few JavaScript books have as many raving fans as this new edition. I highly recommend picking it up.

Here is roughly what is covered in this definitive edition of JavaScript goodness:

  • Introduction to JavaScript, which explores JavaScript, the classic ‘hello world’, a tour of JavaScript, and more.

  • Lexical structure, which includes the text of the JavaScript Program, comments, literals, identifiers and reserved words, unicode, optional semicolons, and more.

  • Types, values, and variables, which goes over numbers, text, boolean values, null and undefined, symbols, global object, immutable primitive values as well as mutable object references, type conversions, variable declaration and assignment.

  • Expressions and operators, which includes primary expressions, object and array initializers, function definition expressions, property access expressions, invocation expressions, object creation expressions, operator overview, arithmetic expressions, relational expressions, logical expressions, assignment expressions, evaluation expressions, and more.

  • Statements, which includes expression statements, compound and empty statements, conditionals, loops, jumps, miscellaneous statements, declarations, and more.

  • Objects, which includes creating objects, querying and setting properties, deleting properties, testing properties, enumerating properties, extending objects, serializing objects, object methods, extended object literal syntax, and more.

  • Arrays, which includes creating arrays, reading and writing array elements, sparse arrays, array length, adding and deleting array elements, iterating arrays, multidimensional arrays, array methods, array-like objects, strings as arrays, and more.

  • Functions, which includes defining funnctions, invoking functions, function arguments and parameters, functions as values, functions as namespaces, clusures, functional programming, and more.

  • Classes, which includes classes and prototypes, classes and constructors, classes with the class keyword, adding methods to existing classes, subclasses, and more.

  • Modules, which includes modules with classes, objects, and closures, modules in node, modules in ES6, and more.

  • The JavaScript Standard Library, which includes sets and maps, typed arrays and binary data, pattern matching with regular expressions, dates and times, error classes, JSONN serialization and parsing, the internationalizatin API, the console API, URL APIs, timers, and more.

  • Iterators and generators, which includes how iterators work, implementing iterable objects, generators, advanced generator features, and more.

  • Asynchronous JavaScript, which includes asynchronous programming with callbacks, promises, async and await, asynchronous iteration, and more.

  • Metaprogramming, which includes property attributes, object extensibility, the prototype attribute, well-known symbols, template tags, the reflect API, proxy objects, and more.

  • JavaScript in Web Browsers, which includes web programming basics, events, scripting documents, scripting CSS, document geometry and scrolling, web components, SVGs, canvas, audio APIs, networking, storage, worker threads, and more.

  • Server-Side JavaScript with Node, which includes node programming basics, asynchronous by default, buffers, events, streams, process, HTTP clients, non-HTTP network servers, child processors, worker threads, and more.

  • JavasScript Tools and Extensions, which includes linting with ESLint, JavaScript formatting with Prettier, unit testing with Jest, package management with nnpm, code bundling, transpilation with Babel, JSX, type checking with Flow, and more.

You can access this book free for 10 days with O’Reilly Learning.

 

Book 2: Eloquent JavaScript: A Modern Introduction to Programming

Eloquent JavaScript: A Modern Introduction to Programming by Marijn Haverbeke is a work of pure art and one of the best books for novice programmers. The biggest standout of this book is its extensive examples and heavy usage of practice exercises. The book has twenty-one chapters and is divided into three parts which provide three different entry points for the audiences it caters to.

Part 1 covers the fundamental aspects of JavaScript and programming languages including:

  • Functions

  • Classes

  • Data Structures

  • Objects

  • Asynchronous Programming

  • Regular Expressions

It further digs deeper into concepts like:

  • Arrow functions

  • Promises

  • Observables

  • async/await

Part 2 tends to focus on the early early days of JavaScript, the browser wars, and the Document Object Model (DOM).

Part 3 discusses Node a little more and goes a bit more in-depth on speed and performance.

This book offers an introduction to programming using JavaScript and lets the readers digest all the concepts easily. It is written in an easy-going conversational manner and gives readers a chance to practice writing their own applications. 

You can access this book free for 10 days with O’Reilly Learning.

 

Book 3: You Don’t Know JS Yet: Get Started

You Don’t Know JS Yet: Get Started is book one of a six-part book series that covers the details and intricacies of JavaScript so that you can think deeply about the language in a clear, nuanced manner. Each of the books are small but packed with real-world value about how to practically think about your code.

I talk about You Don’t Know JS Yet: Get Started in more detail in this article.

What is covered in this packed, little book (but remember, there’s five more afterward):

  • Chapter 1: What Is JavaScript? — Discusses how JavaScript is one of the most misunderstood programming language names as well as what we mean by ECMA and web rules around Javascript.

  • Chapter 2: Surveying JS — Goes over high-level conceptual information such as how each file is a program and the quirky characteristics of JavaScript values.

  • Chapter 3: Digging to the Roots of JS — Talks about iterations, consuming iterators, and iterables. Also defines and discusses closures and the this keyword.

  • Chapter 4: The Bigger Picture — Talks about big-picture concepts such as scope and closure, prototypes, types and coercion, and a recommended order for reading the rest of the books in the series.

  • Appendix A: Exploring Further — Discusses the difference between values and references, function forms, coercive conditional comparison, and prototypal classes

  • Appendix B: Practice, Practice, Practice! — Provides more practice with value and type comparisons, closure, and prototypes. This appendix also provides solution examples.

You can access this book free for 10 days with O’Reilly Learning.

 

Book 4: Understanding ECMAScript 6

Understanding ECMAScript 6 by Nicholas C. Zakas provides a complete guide to all the exciting changes in JavaScript that are brought by ECMAScript 6. ES6 represents the biggest update to the core of JavaScript in the history of the language and this book is a guide for the transition between ECMAScript 5 and 6. 

As you go through the book, you will learn: 

  • How ES6 class syntax relates to more familiar JavaScript concepts

  • What makes iterators and generators useful

  • How arrow functions are different from regular functions

  • Ways to store data with sets, maps, and more

  • The power of inheritance

  • What is so exciting about asynchronous programming with promises

  • How modules change the way you organize code

The book is recommended not just for beginners but for anyone who has a vague understanding of the language and wants to polish his JavaScript programming skills. You will see the new features in action as each chapter is packed with example code that works in any JavaScript environment. The book is divided into thirteen of the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1 covers the block bindings

  • Chapter 2 covers strings and regular expressions

  • Chapter 3 covers functions

  • Chapter 4 covers expanded object functionality

  • Chapter 5 covers destructuring for easier data access

  • Chapter 6 covers symbols and symbol properties

  • Chapter 7 covers sets and maps

  • Chapter 8 covers iterators and generators

  • Chapter 9 introduces the reader to JavaScript classes

  • Chapter 10 covers content on improved array capabilities

  • Chapter 11 talks about promises and asynchronous programming

  • Chapter 12 covers proxies and the reflection API

  • Chapter 13 talks about encapsulating code with modules

There are a lot of important concepts to learn in JavaScript. Get a headstart with this amazing book!

 

Honorable Mentions

I wanted to highlight additional JavaScript books that are still excellent yet do not make the list based on the criteria we established at the beginning of the article. Many of these books do not teach modern JavaScript or teach libraries that are less fashionable today like jQuery.

Fortunately, you can still benefit from excellent books that are older. After all, JavaScript is backwards compatible, and old Vanilla JavaScript will always be a part of the core functionality.

While you can still purchase and benefit from these books, I include them in this section with a cautionary warning that the books are several years old. You may also see these books topping other lists without being reassessed for 2020.

 

Honorable Mention 1: JavaScript and JQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development

JavaScript and JQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development by Jon Duckett is a beautifully designed book that is simply delightful to look at and extremely beginner friendly.

This book enables readers to learn JavaScript & jQuery side-by-side for getting started with web development. This book is designed to guide you through JS programming challenges in a fun way. It has a visually rich format and breaks down complex aspects of JavaScript and jQuery and makes them simple to understand. 

The JavaScript and jQuery book covers basic programming concepts, core elements of the JavaScript language, jQuery, and plenty of other topics. As you go through the book, it will help you in the following aspects:

  • Introduces core programming concepts in JavaScript and jQuery

  • Teaches you how to create scripts from scratch

  • Demonstrates the latest practices in progressive enhancement and cross-browser compatibility

  • Make your sites more interactive

  • Use jQuery to simplify your code

  • Recreate popular web techniques

This book will teach you how to make your websites more interactive, engaging, and usable. Its targeted audience is not IT professionals but the people who want to learn JavaScript from scratch.

 

Honorable Mention 2: JavaScript: The Good Parts, Douglas Crockford

JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford is brutally honest about the short-comings of JacaScript and perfect for the JavaScript pessimist in all of us. However, with ES6 and modern updates, there are less reasons to be bitter recently.

Learners will still benefit who are just venturing into JavaScript for the first time. The book explains that most programming languages contain good parts and bad parts. This book is easy to read and explains how you can use a subset of the good part of the language to build better code. The elegant parts of JS include:

  • Syntax

  • Objects

  • Functions

  • Inheritance

  • Arrays

  • Regular expressions

  • Methods

  • Style

  • Beautiful features

The author recognizes the good parts and bad parts of JavaScript and teaches how to use good parts and avoid bad parts. Another key takeaway of the JavaScript book is that static code analysis should be used to help spot problems. The book will definitely make you a better developer. You will learn a lot of tips on how to organize and architecture your code efficiently.

You can access this book free for 10 days with O’Reilly Learning.

 

Honorable Mention 3: A Smarter Way to Learn JavaScript

A Smarter Way to Learn JavaScript by Mark Myers strikes a perfect balance between learning and practicing. This book is useful for beginners as well as experienced developers. In this JavaScript book, you learn the fundamentals of JavaScript as well as some advanced concepts like constructors and prototypes.

This book includes:

  • Short chapters that are easy to digest 

  • Coding examples with plenty of visuals

  • Real-world references and uses everyday scenarios to explain concepts

  • Interactive exercises to test your skills 

The approach of this book is that you read a chapter for 10 minutes and understand the concept. Then you work on the interactive exercises to test your knowledge. The book is very easy to understand and user-friendly. It assumes no programming experience. The book covers ample coding examples and illustrations. The book will end up by free, online, interactive exercises paired with each chapter.

 

Honorable Mention 4: Head First JavaScript Programming: A Brain-Friendly Guide

Head First JavaScript Programming by Eric Freeman is still an excellent introduction to JS programming. And you know me — I always rave about Head First books for the pure fun, curiosity-driven workbook activities. This book has a visually rich format designed for the way your brain works. It takes you step-by-step through the fundamental concepts and explains the necessary information in more detail after each example. The key topics covered in the book are:

  • The inner details of JavaScript

  • How JavaScript works with the browser

  • The secrets of JavaScript types

  • Using arrays

  • The power of functions

  • How to work with objects

  • Making use of prototypes

  • Understanding closures

  • Writing and testing applications

Head First JavaScript has great arrangements in word and layout. It combines puzzles, games, strong visuals, mysteries, and other interactions with JavaScript to engage you in many different ways. If you want to understand JavaScript in a fast, fun, and effective way, this book's for you!

You can access this book free for 10 days with O’Reilly Learning.

 

Honorable Mention 5: Effective JavaScript: 68 Specific Ways to Harness the Power of JavaScript

Effective JavaScript: 68 Specific Ways to Harness the Power of JavaScript by David Herman gives a thorough understanding of JavaScript for beginners. The book presents 68 proven approaches for writing better JavaScript and are backed by relevant examples. 

This book will help you to identify the right programming style for each project and enable you to work on every facet of JavaScript programming. You will learn how to use prototype-based object-oriented programming, practical explanations of JavaScript’s functions, and variable scoping semantics. As you go through the book, you will learn:

  • Better ways to use prototype-based object-oriented programming

  • Subtleties and solutions for working with arrays and dictionary objects

  • Precise and practical explanations of JavaScript’s functions and variable scoping semantics

  • Useful JavaScript programming patterns and idioms, such as options objects and method chaining

  • In-depth guidance on using JavaScript’s unique “run-to-completion” approach to concurrency

Effective JavaScript will help deepen your understanding of JS language, so you can build more reliable, and maintainable programs. This book will give you a common foundation for building small and large applications. The unique style of the book not only encourages you to read for a long time without getting bored but also makes you practice stuff along the way.

 

Conclusion

Backwards compatibility makes JavaScript one of the most unique and most intimidating languages to learn.

Backwards compatibility makes JavaScript one of the most unique and most intimidating languages to learn.

The path to learning modern JavaScript as a beginner can be a challenging one: mastering a backwards compatible language means that you will find little quirks everywhere, which are often explained by the language’s history.

However, many JavaScript programmers will tell you: the language is fun and it gets more fun as you get closer to it and begin thinking within the language.

Finding good books that teach modern JavasScript can be a challenge, but don’t shy away from old ways of thinking about JavaScript. Past challenges inform the new way.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it with beginning JavaScript programmers who may benefit.

Also, if you’re interested in studying books faster and better, I have a free email course called Get the Most From Technical Books.

After JavaScript, you may want to level-up with TypeScript next. Learn all about what it is and the books to read with this article on TypeScript books. I will see you over there. 👋😊

 

Miranda Limonczenko

Miranda is the founder of Books on Code, with a mission to bring book-lover culture to programmers. Learn more by checking out Miranda on LinkedIn.

http://booksoncode.com
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