Book Review: Land of Lisp

So you’ve been reading “Let’s Program A Swarm Intelligence” and now you want to learn how to program in Lisp. In that case I would suggest Land of Lisp by Conrad Barski, which holds the honor of being the only programming book where I followed along and typed up every single code example in the book without ever feeling tempted to just skim the code and skip to the next chapter.


A big part of this is because every example in Land of Lisp comes in the form of a simple game. And I love games! Odds are you do too. I mean, honestly, ask yourself this: Would you rather practice object oriented programming by writing yet another employee registry* or by writing up a text-driven combat arena where a brave hero has to fight against a horde of slimes, hydras and bandits?


But the coding exercises weren’t the only thing I liked. Land of Lisps is just an overall humorous book filled with cartoon sketches, silly stories and humorous analogies that make the book fun, easy to read and avoid overwhelming you with technical details. It gives the lessons a nice casual pace that’s perfect for a newcomer to the language.


The focus on simple games also has the benefit of introducing a lot of very valuable programming techniques and data crunching algorithms. After all, you can’t program a boardgame without a boardgame AI and you can’t program a boardgame AI without learning some real cool search-and-sort algorithms. So while Land of Lisp is primarily a Lisp textbook it also includes a tasty side order of computer science.


The only downside to Land of Lisp is that it doesn’t make a very good reference book. The games and cartoons and stories that made it a fun learning experience just get in the way when you’re trying to track down a specific fact as quickly as possible. So while Land of Lisp will give you a solid foundation in the language odds are you will end up relying on other Internet or book resources for those times when you’re halfway through a program and really need a reminder on what “loop and collect” syntax looks like.


Final recommendation: If you are a complete Lisp beginner then Land of Lisp is a great and entertaining way to learn everything you need to know to write moderately complex Lisp programs. It won’t make you an expert, but it will teach you everything you need to know in order to start practicing and studying the more complex topics that eventually will.



* The employee registry seems to show up a lot in programming books. Usually something like “Manager and Sales Person both inherit from Employee but override the calculate_pay method.” It’s a solid and useful example… it’s just a really boring one.