Book review: A practical Guide to Linux. Commands, Editors and Shell Programming by Mark G. Sobell

Short URL:

Mark Sobell, a best-selling UNIX author, has done it again: he has delivered yet another fantastic book which makes GNU/Linux easier to approach.

The book’s cover The book’s cover

GNU/Linux (or “Linux”, if you want to be brief and get Mr. Stallman angry) is probably the most talked about operating system in the world right now. Even though GNU/Linux can be used without ever touching the infamous command line (thanks to distributions like Ubuntu or Suse), quite a few users out there are keen to learn how to get the most out of the Unix commands available.

Thanks to this book, those users will find themselves right home.

Mark Sobell, a best-selling UNIX author, has done it again: he has delivered yet another fantastic book which makes GNU/Linux easier to approach

The contents

The book is 583 pages, plus 387 pages at the end—the “Command reference”, which could (and probably should) have been avoided (see the “cons” section of this review). The book is divided into five main parts. In the first part, the book welcomes less experienced users and gets them sitting comfortably in front of a shell. The second part is dedicated to text editors (Vi and Emacs). This part is the foundation for the next one (part three), which explains the basics of Bash and TC shell. The fourth part is the fun one: after spending time writing uncomplicated scripts, the reader can discover how to program the Bash and how to use tools like AWK and SED. Each section can be read on its own; however, the book is a great step-by-step guide, where every chapter builds up on the previously acquired knowledge.

Who’s this book for?

With this book, Mark Sobell targets a huge audience: all those people who have installed Linux, but want to become “real users”. It’s probably a little intimidating as someone’s “first Unix book”. However, it’s perfect for all those people who started feeling (almost?) comfortable with the command line and don’t want to waste any more time dragging icons around.

Relevance to free software

The free software movement existed long before GNU/Linux did. However, GNU/Linux is what made the movement so big and influential. This book explains in great detail and incommensurable clarity how to use GNU/Linux and all of the utilities which come with it. It has the potential of creating an army of free software orientated power users.


It’s a fantastic book. Mark is an experienced writer, and it shows. Reading the book is like watching Jose Manuel Carreño doing ballet: effortless, light, strong, perfect. I wish I had had it in 1992, when I started using AIX and felt utterly lost in it.


If you feel guilty about killing the trees needed to print the 387 pages of the “command reference”, think again. This book is fantastic, and those 387 pages are the only real black spot. Why didn’t the publisher put them online, in an era when most of the book’s readership has cable access to the internet? It’s a shame. This big waste is what made the overall mark “9” rather than “10”.

Title A practical guide to Linux. Commands, Editors, and Shell Programming.
Author Mark G. Sobell
Publisher Prentice Hall
ISBN 0131478230
Year 2005
Pages 579 + 387
CD included No
FS Oriented 9
Over all score 9

In short


Author information

Tony Mobily's picture


Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine