7 Best SQL Books for Beginners in 2021
Structured Query Language (SQL) has been around for half of a century and yet it is still the most popular query language designed for communicating with databases. As a query language, SQL is simple and uses few words. It is a minimal language, which credits the language’s longevity.
SQL was developed by IBM in the early 1970s. Its ability to execute queries such as retrieve, insert, update, and delete was groundbreaking and influencial to future technologies such as RESTful APIs and CRUD (Create, Read, Update, and Delete).
In this article, I’m going to talk about a handful of fantastic SQL books. With these books, you can learn SQL quickly and become an indispensable programmer or data analyst.
Why Learn SQL?
Here are the reasons you may be interested in learning SQL:
Become a Data Analyst: Data analysts can use SQL to find trends, draw conclusions, and report insights about the information they contain. For more on becoming a data analyst, find these best books for data analysts.
Increasing job opportunities: The job market for data analysts and consultants is growing. The world continues to store more data and we continue to need people to organize it.
Do what matters: As a programmer or someone in any profession, you can learn to gather and store your own data efficiently and make decisions that matter to your life.
Become Indespensible: Unlike other skills that are hot and then are not, SQL is never out of style. Once you learn SQL, you can apply the principles you learn for the rest of your career.
What Makes the Best SQL Books?
When looking for the best books to learn SQL, you might wonder about the criteria we use to judge these books. After all, many placed on the internet are spinning these lists from information readily available on the internet.
To form this list, I actually look inside each book and assess its writing style and structure.
Here are our criteria to select books on :
It must have a structured, clear, and logical progression of topics.
The book is concise and easy to understand.
Contain exercises, examples, and practice problems for hands-on experience.
Engaging and able to hold the attention of readers.
The book should have a clear layout and must be friendly toward self-taught programmers.
As bonus points, the book incorporates some fun and conversational style to keep engagement.
The Best SQL Books
See below for a handful of the best books you can use to learn SQL fundamentals quickly and effectively:
1. Best Book for Learning Key Concepts: Learning SQL
There are plenty of books out there that treat you like a dummy, idiot, or some other flavor of simpleton, but these books tend to just skim the surface. […] This book strives to find the middle ground, starting with some background of the SQL language, moving through the basics, and then progressing into some of the more advanced features that will allow you to really shine.
Learning SQL: Generate, Manipulate, and Retrieve Data by Alan Beaulieu is a March 2020 release that teaches how to quickly pick up SQL basics and powerful, more advanced topics.
This book isolates key concepts in each chapter, illustrating them with diagrams and examples.
With this book, you can learn to…
Move swiftly through basics
Use data statements
Create database objects
Understand how datasets work with queries
Manipulate data with conditional logic and functions
This nearly-400 page SQL book includes the following 18 chapters:
Chapter 1: A Little Background — Includes overview of databases, database terminology, SQL terminology, SQL examples, and more.
Chapter 2: Creating And Populating A Database — Includes creating a MySQL database, using the command-line tool, MySQL data types, data types, table creation, as well as inserting, updating, and deleting data and more.
Chapter 3: Query Primer — Includes query mechanics and clauses, column aliases, removing duplicates, defining table aliases, and more.
Chapter 4: Filtering — Includes condition evaluation, using parenthesis, using the not operator, condition types, equality conditions, range conditions, membership conditions, matching conditions, null, and more.
Chapter 5: Querying Multiple Tables — includes concepts on the Cartesian Product, joins, using subqueries as tables, using the same table twice, and more.
Chapter 6: Working With Sets — includes set operators like union, intercept, except, and more.
Chapter 7: Data Generation, Manipulation, And Conversion — Includes working with strings, performing arithmetic functions, controlling number precision, handling signed data, working with temporal data, and more.
Chapter 8: Grouping And Aggregates — includes grouping concepts, aggregate functions, and more.
Chapter 9: Subqueries — includes an overview of subqueries, subquery types, and more.
Chapter 10: Joins Revisited — includes information about outer joins, cross joins, natural joins, and more.
Chapter 11: Conditional Logic — includes an overview of conditional logic such as the case expression, result set transformations, and more.
Chapter 12: Transactions — includes information about locking and starting transactions.
Chapter 13: Indexes And Constraints — includes information about indexes such as index creation, index types, constraints, and more.
Chapter 14: Views — includes an overview of views, data security, data aggregation, updating views, and more.
Chapter 15: Metadata — includes the information_schema, how to work with metadata, deployment verification, and more.
Chapter 16: Analytic Functions — includes data windows, localized sorting, ranking, ranking functions, and more.
Chapter 17: Working With Large Databases — includes information on partitioning, partitioning concepts, table partitioning, index partitioning, and more.
Chapter 18: SQL And Big Data — includes an introduction to Apache Drill and how to query using Drill.
2. Best Book for Hands-On Learning: Practical SQL
Practical SQL is for people who encounter data in their everyday lives and want to learn how to analyze and transform it. To this end, I discuss real-world data and scenarios, such as U.S. Census demographics, crime statistics, and data about taxi rides in New York City.
Practical SQL: A Beginner’s Guide to Storytelling with Data by Anthony DeBarros is written in a conversational, friendly style. The book is intended for people who are curious about how to analyze data and have an interest in a career in data analysis. The book is called practical SQL for its real-world examples and applications.
The book is hands-on and will have you creating a database within the first pages of the first chapter.
With this book, you can learn to…
Create databases and tables
Define data types
Sort, aggregate, and filter data
Use arithmetic functions
Spot errors in data
Import and export data
Create advanced queries
This 392-page book includes the following 18 chapters:
Chapter 1: Creating Your First Database And Table
Chapter 2: Beginning Data Exploration With SELECT
Chapter 3: Understanding Data Types
Chapter 4: Importing And Exporting Data
Chapter 5: Basic Math And Stats with SQL
Chapter 6: Joining Tables In A Relational Database
Chapter 7: Table Design That Works For You
Chapter 8: Extracting Information By Grouping And Summarizing
Chapter 9: Inspecting And Modifying Data
Chapter 10: Statistical Functions In SQL
Chapter 11: Working With Dates And Times
Chapter 12: Advanced Query Techniques
Chapter 13: Mining Text To Find Meaningful Data
Chapter 14: Analyzing Spatial Data With PostGIS
Chapter 15: Saving Time With Views, Functions, And Triggers
Chapter 16: Using PostgreSQL From the Command Line
Chapter 17: Maintaining Your Database
Chapter 18: Identifying And Telling The Story Behind Your Data
3. Best Book for Data Analysts: SQL for Data Analytics
SQL for Data Analytics covers everything you need to progress from simply knowing basic SQL to telling stories and identifying trends in data.
SQL for Data Analytics: Perform fast and efficient data analysis with the power of SQL is by Upon Malic, Matt Goldwasser, and more authors. The book is written in a simple, clean style that teaches you not only how to write SQL queries, but how to think like a data analyst using diagrams and examples.
With this book, you can learn to…
Analyze your data with statistical techniques
Write SQL queries and subqueries
Import and export data
Use special SQL functions and clauses
Use your SQL pipelines with other technologies for analytics
Use advanced analytic techniques like geospatial techniques and text analysis
This 386-page book includes the following 9 chapters:
Chapter 1: Understanding And Describing Data
Chapter 2: The Basics Of SQL For Analytics
Chapter 3: SQL For Data Preparation
Chapter 4: Aggregate Functions For Data Analytics
Chapter 5: Window Functions For Data Analysis
Chapter 6: Importing And Exporting Data
Chapter 7: Analytics Using Complex Data Types
More books you may like:
4. Best Book for Completionists: SQL Queries for Mere Mortals
You might ask, “Who is a mere mortal? Me?” The answer is not simple. When I started to write this book, I thought was an expert in the database language called SQL. Along the way, I discovered I am a mere mortal, too, in several areas. I understood a few specific implementations of SQL very well, but I unraveled many of the complex intricacies of the language as I studied how it is used in many commercial products.
SQL Queries for Mere Mortals: A Hands-On Guide to Data Manipulation in SQL by John Viescas is in its 4th edition, with the latest release published in 2018. This massive textbook is highly respected in the programming field and worth owning as a SQL professional.
The book defines “mere mortals” — the target audience — as anyone who has to use a database system that supports SQL: people who know a little or a lot and people who need to solve problems using SQL.
With this book, you can learn to…
Learn about relational databases and sound database structure
Use SQL basics such as SELECT statements, expressions, and sorting
Grouping data with clauses
Grouping data with join operators
Modifying data sets with statements
Use advance queries
Use advanced grouping keywords
Use window functions
This 960-page book includes the following 6 parts with 22 chapters:
Part 1: Relational Databases and SQL
Part 2: SQL Basics
Part 3: Working with Multiple Tables
Part 4: Summarizing and Grouping Data
Part 5: Modifying Sets of Data
Part 6: Introduction to Solving Tough Problems
5. Best Quick-Start Book: SQL in 10 Minutes
I had been teaching Web application development for several years, and students were constantly asking for SQL book recommendations. There are lots of SQL books out there. Some are actually very good. But they all have one thing in common: for most users they teach just too much information.
SQL in 10 Minutes, Sams Teach Yourself by Ben Forta is not exactly just 10 minutes of learning. The 5th edition title is a 2020 Pearson publication. With this book, the claim is that each exercise or lesson can be completed in less than 10 minutes. This popular book has had over half-a-million readers and works to provide a “classroom experience” to SQL learners who are complete beginners and who want to get the most out of SQL.
I highly respect books that respect your time, as this book does. The lessons are well chunked into small, actionable pieces and are highly skimmable.
With this book, you can do each of the following in less than 10 minutes:
Use SQL statements
Use multiple clauses and operators
Sort, retrieve, and format data
Use filtering techniques
Summarize data with aggregate functions
Use join operators
Insert, update, and delete data
Alter and create database tables
Use views and more
This 256-page book is organized into 10-minute lessons rather than chapters. The book contains the following 22 lessons:
Lesson 1: Understanding SQL
Lesson 2: Retrieving Data
Lesson 3: Sorting Retrieved Data
Lesson 4: Filtering Data
Lesson 5: Advanced Data Filtering
Lesson 6: Using Wildcard Filtering
Lesson 7: Creating Calculated Fields
Lesson 8: Using Data Manipulation Functions
Lesson 9: Summarizing Data
Lesson 10: Grouping Data
Lesson 11: Working With Subqueries
Lesson 12: Joining Tables
Lesson 13: Creating Advanced Joins
Lesson 14: Combining Queries
Lesson 15: Inserting Data
Lesson 16: Updating And Deleting Data
Lesson 17: Creating And Manipulating Tables
Lesson 18: Using Views
Lesson 19: Working With Stored Procedures
Lesson 20: Managing Transaction Processing
Lesson 21: Using Cursors
Lesson 22: Understanding Advanced SQL Features
6. Best Budget-Friendly Book: SQL QuickStart Guide
If I have learned anything from both my academic and professional wanderings, it is this: there is a much more practical approach to becoming an invaluable resource[. …I have distilled] all the lessons that I have learned into a simple, practical, hands-on approach to SQL[.]
SQL QuickStart Guide: The Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Managing, Analyzing, and Manipulating Data with SQL by Walter Shields is a self-published, Kindle book that teaches the nuts and bolts of SQL without skimping on content.
This book is designed to be “sympathetic to our busy lives and schedules.” It is for “readers who already possess a basic or even advanced understanding of SQL.” It is a basic toolkit — where you can easily jump in and out as you need.
This 333-page book includes the following 10 simple chapters:
Chapter 1: Understanding Database Structure
Chapter 2: SQL Tools and Strategies
Chapter 3: Exploring a Database in SQlite
Chapter 4: Getting Started with Queries
Chapter 5: Turning Data into Information
Chapter 6: Working with Multiple Tables
Chapter 7: Using Functions
Chapter 8: Subqueries
Chapter 9: Views
Chapter 10: Data Manipulation Language (DML)
The book is packed with diagrams and examples. The writing style feels embued with the unique voice of the author, which can be verbose or unpolished at times.
Being a self-published book, it may not have been edited as thoroughly. However, the book was made with love and shows attention to detail and care.
For the price, this book is a fantastic introduction to SQL.
7. Best Book for Academics: Learn SQL Database Programming
This book is for business analysts, SQL developers, database administrators, and students learning SQL. If you want to learn how to query and manipulate SQL data for database administration tasks or to simply extract and organize relevant data for analysis, you'll find this book useful.
Learn SQL Database Programming: Query and manipulate databases from popular database servers using SQL by Josephine Bush is a well-structured, thorough textbook. It defines each term aptly and succinctly. It has a no-nonsense, formal style with good formatting and chunking: paragraphs are not overly verbose, formatting is consistent, and diagrams frequently break up the text.
I see this textbook being used in a college classroom as a comprehensive, thorough book on the topic.
There is not much fun in this book. Examples do not add much curiosity. For example:
The example table above has standard names, ID, and birth year. To make it more interesting, there could have been a story with recognizable names (for example, Sherlock and Watson) rather than ‘Jim Jones’ and ‘Joe Smith’ — names that say nothing.
This 564-page book includes the following 15 chapters across five sections:
Section 1: Database Fundamentals
Chapter 1: Introduction to Relational Database Management Systems
Chapter 2: Installing and Using MySQL Workbench
Chapter 3: Understanding Data Types
Chapter 4: Designing and Creating a Database
Chapter 5: Importing and Exporting Data
Section 2: Basic SQL Querying
Chapter 6: Querying a Single Table
Chapter 7: Querying Multiple Tables
Chapter 8: Modifying Data and Table Structures
Section 3: Advanced SQL Querying
Chapter 9: Working with Expressions
Chapter 10: Grouping and Summarizing Data
Chapter 11: Advanced Querying Techniques
Chapter 12: Programmable Objects
Section 4: Presenting Your Findings
Chapter 13: Exploring and Processing Your Data
Chapter 14: Telling a Story with Your Data
Chapter 15: Best Practices for Designing and Querying
More Ways to Learn SQL
You can learn SQL from more than just books. I find learning easiest when I am using multiple formats — books alongside interactive or video courses.
Here are some top-rated courses on SQL:
Udemy: The Complete SQL Bootcamp 2021 has over 60,000 five-star reviews and over nine hours of video content covering all SQL fundamentals. The course tests your knowledge along the way with assessments. One of the reviews says, “I highly recommend this course and I can truly say that it landed me my first Data Analyst job with zero prior experience.”
Coursera: SQL for Data Science is taught my University of California, Davis and has well over a thousand five-star reviews. The four-week course teaches how to use SQL to query and manipulate a database.
Codecademy: The Analyze data with SQL interactive Skill Path is designed to help you make sense of big data, combine data sets, and write professional code. The Skill Path is designed to prepare you for a career as a data analyst and helps you interview prep as the final lesson. This Skill Path is a premium (‘Pro’) offering. For more information, see my review of Codecademy Pro.
With all of these resources in your back pocket, you are well on your way to learn SQL. SQL is a simple yet powerful language. I expect that you will learn quickly and then soar in your career.
If you want to continue to develop yourself as a strong programmer, here’s an article you might like: a full overview of the main principles in Clean Code. I hope to see you there!