David MacKay

Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms

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Comparison of Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms with Harry Potter

OK, you're tempted to buy MacKay's book, but you're not sure whether it's the best deal around?

Let's compare it with another textbook with a similar sales rank.

Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms
Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms
David J.C. MacKay
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
J.K Rowling
Sales rank
amazon.co.uk, Mon 5/1/04
5,667 2,486
List Price (UK) £30.00 £11.99
Number of pages 640 223
Cost per page 4.6p 5.4p
Has large margins for making notes? Yes No
Includes comprehensive index? Yes No
Number of tables, figures, and algorithms 462 0
Free software provided for use of teachers and students? Yes No
Number of exercises More than 400 None
Entire book available for free on-line viewing? Yes No
Also available in paperback? No Yes
Available in Latin translation? No Yes
Available from Barnes and Noble?
(on Mon 5/1/04)
Yes Only in Latin and Welsh translations
Table 1
The comparisons in Table 1 show that the popular textbook by Rowling has a lower cover price than MacKay's new work. However, the prospective buyer should take into account the significantly greater length of MacKay's text: both textbooks have a cost per page of about 5 pence.

In terms of user-friendliness, MacKay's text has the edge when it comes to its thorough index, the rich use of figures, the provision of free software for the use of the reader, and the profusion of examples and exercises, many with worked solutions.

A strong selling point for MacKay's book is its free availability for online viewing. Unlike Rowling, who is notoriously secretive about her textbooks before they are published, MacKay made his entire book available online while it was a work in progress.

A possible weakness of MacKay's product is that it is only available in hardback. Native speakers of Latin may also prefer Rowling's text, since a full translation into Latin is now available.

The issue that must clinch the choice, however, is availability. Our reviewer tried to purchase both texts from Barnes and Noble on Mon 5/1/04, and found that the Rowling text is not available.1

In conclusion, we can give a cautious recommendation of Harry Potter only to speakers of Welsh and Latin; for everyone else, we recommend Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms.

[1] Rowling's text has however been translated into American, and released under a different title.

Site last modified Sun Aug 31 18:51:08 BST 2014