The Best Python Books for All Skill Levels - Stack Abuse

The Best Python Books for All Skill Levels

Just about every year is a good year to be investing in Python learning, whether you are a beginner or an expert. Employment opportunities are opening for Python developers in fields beyond traditional web development.

An IBM blog post reports that Python is now the dominant language in many data science and machine learning careers. We charted data from DataScienceCentral to see how well Python is doing in this new field. Here is the result.

Google Trends Machine Learning Interest

As you can see, it seems to be doing pretty well.

Where to Find Python Books for Beginners and Experts

While there are many Python courses and tutorials online, learning from a book is still one of the best ways to greatly improve your Python skills.

To find books, here are some ideas:

  • Try the local library: They often have programming books that very few people borrow!
  • Amazon, eBay: You can score many used programming books on eBay for a bargain
  • Local bookstores: The potential for finding technical books is there, but they won't match the variety of online stores

Below I'll give you my selections for the best Python books by a few categories. I will cover these and other great Python books more in depth later.

Note: All prices listed below are as of the time of this writing and may have changed.

Best Paid Book

Python Cookbook

Python Cookbook, Third edition by David Beazley and Brian K. Jones - Price $32.62

What makes it the best: This hefty, comprehensive, guide to writing production-grade Python code covers all your bases. If you have to get just one book, make it this one.

Best Free Book

Think Like A Computer Scientist

How To Think Like A Computer Scientist: Learning With Python, by Allen Downey, Jeff Elkner and Chris Meyers. The book is available under a free GNU Free Documentation License. Paperback versions are also available if you want a physical copy.

What makes it the best: This free book teaches you Python in a computer science context. It takes a formal approach but is geared at the beginner programmer.

Best Beginner Book

head first python

Head First Python by Paul Barry - Price $18.26

What makes it the best: This book is highly engaging for the beginner. It puts illustrations and learning aids at the center of learning to help you code Python. If you've given up learning Python half-way through a tough book, this is the solution to finally go all the way.

The Best Python Book Recommendations by Category

Paid Books

Out of the books available on Amazon and other booksellers, we've selected these recommendations on the best of the best.

We've included links to these books, all available on Amazon or various other online stores.

python cookbook

1. Python Cookbook, Third edition, by David Beazley and Brian K. Jones

Price: $32.62

Amazon Stars: 4.6/5

GoodReads Score: 4.45/5

The Python Cookbook is geared at professional Python programmers. It covers, in one comprehensive volume, tutorials on the most common programming tasks. Code examples in the book show you how things are done in idiomatic Python 3 code. The book explains why and how the code works, which is very helpful. Inside, you will find guides on topics like data encoding, data structures, algorithms, meta-programming and concurrency.

head first python

2. Head First Python: A Brain-Friendly Guide, by Paul Barry

Price: $18.26

Amazon Stars: 4.3/5

GoodReads Score: 3.7/5

The Head First book series has gained a reputation for beginner-friendly programming books that are nonetheless definitive. Learning Python from this book will take you from the basics to an intermediate level of knowledge. The multitude of coding exercises covers areas like working with dictionaries and sets. In addition, more advanced techniques like threading and building web apps are also covered.

learn python the hard way

3. Learn Python The Hard Way, by Zed A. Shaw

Price: $29.99

Amazon Stars: 3.7/5

GoodReads Score: 3.9/5

Zed Shaw's Learn Python The Hard Way has helped thousands of people learn to code using Python. The book is notable for taking a hands-on approach to the learning process. This means that instead of copy and pasting the code examples, you get to type all the code yourself. The book is also accompanied by video lessons from Zed Shaw to teach you how to code. If you want an intellectually challenging Python intro, go with this!

Free Python Books

Free eBook: Git Essentials

Check out our hands-on, practical guide to learning Git, with best-practices, industry-accepted standards, and included cheat sheet. Stop Googling Git commands and actually learn it!

A good number of Python book authors have open sourced their text books for others to learn from. You will therefore find books that range from college texts to beginner tutorials on various authors' websites, ready for you to learn from.

Here are 3 top recommendations of free books for learning Python.

1. A Byte Of Python, by C.H. Swaroop

A Byte Of Python takes a light-hearted approach to the Python language. The book's low learning curve and project-based code examples help the beginner code Python programs. The book will walk you through the development of code for solving practical problems such as backing up files. Through the process, the author walks you through program refinements that help expand your knowledge.

2. Natural Language Processing With Python, by Steven Bird, Ewan Klein, and Edward Loper

This book covers the field of natural language processing, which has to do with the understanding and manipulation of data about spoken languages such as English, Spanish, Hindi, and others. This is a field with growing applications. Computers and natural language assistants such as Siri and Google Now understand how to interpret natural language commands. Using Python, the authors walk you through programming natural language applications from the very fundamentals. The book assumes no prior experience with Python.

3. How To Think Like A Computer Scientist, Learning With Python, by Allen Downey, Jeff Elkner and Chris Meyers

If you want to learn not just programming techniques, but get an introduction to computer science, this book will help you. How To Think Like A Computer Scientist takes a more formal approach to topics like data structures. It explains the underlying theory behind common data structures as well as abstract data types such as stacks and queues. In addition, the book shows you how to implement all the computer science topics you learn. By the time you are finished with the book, you will have a good grounding in the theory and application of introductory computer science.

Beginner Books

Beginners to Python, and programming in general, have the most questions when it comes to selecting a book. Books that start off too difficult, while exciting for a more experienced programmer, will often discourage the beginner from learning programming.

You therefore want to select a book that walks you through the basics in an easy-to-understand way. A beginner book should clearly explain all code examples and the steps you have to take to accomplish the exercises.

Here are three of the best Python books for complete beginners:

1. Head First Python: A Brain-Friendly Guide, by Paul Barry

Price: $18.26

Amazon Stars: 4.3/5

GoodReads Score: 3.7/5

Head First Python stands out among Python books for being approachable and easy to make progress with. The witty remarks and illustrations address the exact problems you encounter as a beginning Python programmer. Hands-on coding exercises working with topics like databases and HTML make this a highly practical book. In a few weeks, or even days, you can make rapid gains in Python programming knowledge.

2. Python Crash Course: A Hands-On, Project-Based Introduction to Programming, by Eric Matthes

Price: $27.16

Amazon Stars: 4.5/5

GoodReads Score: 4.25/5

Python Crash Course goes beyond the basics to immersing you into fully-functioning software projects. You will code projects involving Django, the highly popular Python web framework. Other projects like Alien Invasion will show you the fun side of making games with Python. Besides the fun and games, the book will introduce you to fundamentals of the Python programming language. You will end up as a very accomplished beginner when you finish this highly popular crash course.

3. Python Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science, by John Zelle

Price: $19.99

Amazon Stars: 4.5/5

GoodReads Score: 3.97/5

This text book will come in handy if you are a student and need help for a course, or just want an academic introduction to Python. The book is aimed at entry-level computer science college students. As such, you will find an academic treatment of program design, computer science theory and the fundamentals of computing. The book will also teach you how computers work, hardware basics, data structures, and object oriented programming.

Book Recommendations for Advanced Python Programmers

Advanced developers need to take care to internalize best practices. In addition, advanced topics such as neural networks and computer vision offer challenges that can expand your skillset. Here are the top books you will want to check out.

grokking algorithms

1. Grokking Algorithms: An illustrated guide for programmers and other curious people, by Aditya Bhargava

Price: $18.27

Amazon Stars: 4.6/5

GoodReads Score: 4.4/5

Rather than give a merely theoretical approach to computing algorithms, Grokking Algorithms makes the topic highly practical. It will show you how to write your own spell checker programs using graph algorithms, as well as apply algorithms to data compression problems. The techniques you learn cover major algorithm classes such as sorting and searching. The highly engaging writing style makes the topics easier to grasp and apply in your everyday coding.

Introduction to Machine Learning with Python

2. Introduction to Machine Learning with Python: A Guide for Data Scientists, by Sarah Guido and Andreas C. Muller

Price: $24.18

Amazon Stars: 4.3/5

GoodReads Score: 4.38/5

This book will give you an applied introduction to the vastly growing field of machine learning. You will learn to use the scikit-learn library to solve machine learning problems. You will learn to apply supervised learning algorithms as well as unsupervised learning algorithms. Code examples cover topics like k-Means Clustering and Naive Bayes Classifiers.

Fluent Python

3. Fluent Python: Clear, Concise, and Effective Programming, by Luciano Ramalho

Price: $36.85

Amazon Stars: 4.6/5

GoodReads Score: 4.67/5

Python favors a simple, "Pythonic" way of accomplishing things. This book shows you how to write idiomatic Python code that follows that Pythonic way. It will be useful for advanced programmers to help you learn the best techniques you should be using. Applying lessons from the book will result in clearer, shorter, and faster code for all the applications you are already developing today. This is a highly recommended text for any experienced developer trying to achieve the widely rumored Zen of Python.

Python Books from Stack Abuse

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Python books that we've published recently. While a number of them are currently in development, there is one available:

1. Data Visualization in Python, by Daniel Nelson

Price: $29.00

Data Visualization in Python

Data Visualization in Python, a book for beginner to intermediate Python developers, will guide you through simple data manipulation with Pandas, cover core plotting libraries like Matplotlib and Seaborn, and show you how to take advantage of declarative and experimental libraries like Altair.

Over the span of 11 chapters (270+ pages) this book will cover 9 Python libraries: Pandas, Matplotlib, Seaborn, Bokeh, Altair, Plotly, GGPlot, GeoPandas, and VisPy. Each library has its own unique features and quirks, some related to each other, while some are based on completely different technologies and ideas. With this book you'll get a single resource for learning the ins and outs of each.

Learn Python Now to Open New Career Possibilities

With the great selection of Python books covering any topic imaginable, the learning opportunities are endless. Whether you are a beginner looking to get started, books like Head First Python will show you the ropes. If you want to dive right in, Learn Python The Hard Way will challenge you to really understand how Python works. For the advanced programmer, Fluent Python and Grokking Algorithms offer a chance to up your level of Python. Meanwhile, the books on natural language processing or advanced data science algorithms will present exciting new possibilities for all Python developers.

Other Recommendations

Interested in other languages than just Python? If so, you can check out the The Best Java Books for All Skill Levels as well! According to TIOBE, it's the #1 most popular programming language in the world, and is definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.

Last Updated: October 20th, 2020
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Tendai MutunhireAuthor

Tendai Mutunhire started out doing Java development for large corporations, then taught startup teams how to code at the MEST incubator, and is in the process of launching a few startups of his own.

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