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Review: Sage Beginner’s Guide

Sage Beginner's Guide is a book from Packt Publishing that aims to help new users to break the ice and get comfortable and productive with Sage. Sage is an open-source Math software system that combines a large number of packages into a Python interface. Disclaimer: I am much more familiar with the commercial Math software system, Mathematica, which I blog about at Playing With Mathematica. I have dabbled with Sage but don't have enough experience with it to compare it to Mathematica. But, I'm curious enough about Sage that, when the publisher offered me a review copy, I accepted.

The Sage site has links to a number of types of documentation and support. You need to decide whether what's available for free meets your needs. Among other things, there's a tutorial, an installation guide, a book for newbies, and lots more, free for clicking and downloading.

Why might you want to buy a copy of the Sage Beginner's Guide? There are a number of reasons.

  1. The Guide combines a number of types of documentation into a single book. There's an overview chapter, an installation chapter, information helpful for getting your bearings, an introduction to Python, how-to's on plotting, information on symbolic and numerical computation, plus some advanced information on doing more with Sage, Python, LaTeX interactive applications and more. You can view the entire table of contents here.

  2. The Guide has a very good structure that supports hands-on learning incredibly well. An idea is introduced followed by a "Time for action" section. There is a "What just happened" section to explain the inner workings of what you did. There are brief multiple choice questions in the "Pop quiz" sections to further cement your understanding. There are "Have a go hero" sections that provide you with challenges for experimenting with what you've learned. And, each chapter has a bulleted summary.

  3. The Guide is very current. It was just published and is more current than much of what is on the Web.

  4. Author Craig Finch writes clearly. It's easy to follow the examples.

  5. The examples are practical and relevant to what real users in school or in the scientific world would do with Sage.

  6. There are plenty of illustrations, although they're black and white.

  7. There's something to be said for paper books although you can also purchase access to an electronic copy of the book. Whether you purchase electronic access or not you can download for free the code to copy and paste into your Sage notebooks.

I think the Sage Beginner's Guide would be a welcome source of help to people who want a structured experience of learning Sage all in one place without needing to piece together documentation and tutorials from a number of place. Like many things on the Web you can find the information for free if you want to spend the time to sort through it. If you don't have the time, or the patience, or if you want a guided learning experience I think the Sage Beginner's Guide is a good choice.

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