Using Google App Engine

Using Google App Engine, a recent O’Reilly book by Charles Severance, is a very rare animal: a self-contained book on software development. An intelligent person who had never written a computer program could, without referring to other books, develop a very simple application running on Google’s servers. The book has been slammed by some nerd reviewers on for being shallow and wasting time explaining what HTTP and HTML are, but these are precisely the things that I like about the book. The chapter on Python starts with a section titled “What is Programming?”

A person doesn’t have to devote his or her life to reading dozens of interlocking books. This 240-page book is sufficient for a satisfying introduction to the world of cloud nerds. If the reader wants to go deeper, the online docs for all of the subsystems described in the book are available.

6 thoughts on “Using Google App Engine

  1. Dr. Greenspun (even though your brother is the ‘real’ doctor:)),

    I am actually amazed that authors invest time in writing such books, and that people buy these books. I would buy a book on software engineering, but never a book on particular programing language or a technology stack. I find these to be a complete waste of money and trees. Mainly because these are so well documented on their respective websites with tons of examples. There is no need to destroy a tree to read what is already available on the internet.

    Just my 2 cents.

    I don’t print what is available on the internet.


  2. I can’t remember how long Philip & Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing is, but I went from pretty much zero knowledge to having a web application up and running reading just that one book. My favorite chapter was the one about learning HTML.

    240pp feels long right now, though.

  3. I was taking a look at it on, and it is indeed well written.

    I just got around to checking out App Engine myself. It’s very impressive in its own kind of keep-it-simple sort of way. A bit limited for many tasks, but I suspect it will be the launching pad for more than a few start-ups.

    The productivity improvement in hosting operations over the last 10 years is nothing short of phenomenal. With EC2, I can launch a server and 100GB of SAN storage online in 5 minutes. Compared to what one had to go through 10 years ago, this is so many orders of magnitude more efficient, I can’t even count.

  4. “I don’t print what is available on the internet.”

    I see where you’re coming from, but what does that leave? I’m still at the bottom of the software dev learning curve. Every book that I’ve bought in the last year on the numerous languages and technologies out there has been helpful, but I’m left more or less digging into wordpress as an easy platform to get started building useful stuff. A book like this one sounds pretty intriguing to someone like me, who has found the monolithic pile of info available on,, etc. to be so comprehensive as to be useless.

    So, thanks for linking this book…

  5. I find these to be a complete waste of money and trees. Mainly because these are so well documented on their respective websites with tons of examples.

    Most programming documentation on the web is crappy, poorly organized or out of date. As a computer book author the past decade, I’ve never had to look far for work.

    After spending the last day building a Linux box on Slicehost by hitting Google in response to each error message and fumbling through as best I could, I would’ve gladly bought a book on the subject instead. Time is money.

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