Is this book for you? If you're a programmer in a language other than C++ and you want to upgrade your skills, then you shouldn't have much difficulty figuring that out for yourself by reading a few pages. But what if you have no previous programming experience? In that case, here's a little quiz that may help you decide:

1. Do you want to know how the programs in your computer work inside and how to write some of your own?
2. Are you willing to exert yourself mentally to learn a complex technical subject?
3. Do you have a sense of humor?

If you've answered yes to these questions and follow through with the effort required, then you will get a lot out of this book.
The common wisdom states that programming is a difficult subject that should be reserved for a small number of specialists. One of the main reasons that I have written this book is that I believe this attitude is wrong; it is possible, and even desirable, for you to learn how programs work and how to write them. Those who don't understand how computers perform their seemingly magical feats are at an ever-increasing disadvantage in a society ever more dependent on these extraordinary machines.
Regardless of the topic, I can see no valid reason for a book to be stuffy and dry, and I've done everything possible to make this one approachable. However, don't let the casual tone fool you into thinking that the subject is easy; there is no royal road to programming, any more than there is to geometry. Especially if you have no prior experience in programming, C++ will stretch your mind more than virtually any other area of study.
Assuming that you want to learn C++, why should you read this book rather than any of dozens of other introductory C++ books? One difference between this book and other introductory books is that many of them still don't use the C++ standard library1, a very important part of the C++ language definition. We'll make use of some of the features of the standard library in this book, to get you started on learning this large and complex part of the C++ language.
However, we certainly won't cover it in its entirety; that would require much more room that we can devote to it here. In fact, many books can be and have been written about the standard library alone, although I don't know of any that would be suitable for novices to programming.
But there is one ingredient that makes this book unique: the participation of a real, live person who didn't already know the material before reading it, namely Susan Heller, my wife.2 Her main contribution has been to read every line of the book, starting with the first draft, and to ask questions via e-mail about anything she didn't understand. I answered her questions, also by e-mail, until both of us were satisfied that she understood the material in question and that the text was clear. After the text was otherwise complete, I extracted appropriate parts of the e-mail exchanges, edited them for spelling, punctuation, and so forth, and included them in the text where they will be most useful to the reader.
For this latest version of the book, we have discussed the changes caused by the adoption of the standard library. As a result of our discussions, I have added to and modified the existing e-mail conversations as appropriate so that they make sense in the context of those changes. However, Susan still has the final say on what goes in her side of these conversations, so they are still authentic conversations.
Of course, these exchanges do take up room in the book that might otherwise be filled with more information about C++ and programming. Therefore, if you want to get the absolute maximum of new information per page, you might want to select another book such as Bjarne Stroustrup's excellent The C++ Programming Language (ISBN 0-201-88954-4), or perhaps Accelerated C++, by Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo (ISBN 0-201-70353-X). However, the vast majority of comments I've received from readers of my other books for beginners have indicated that they found my approach very helpful, and I suspect that most readers of this book will feel the same.
Susan has written an account of part of her involvement in this project, which immediately follows this Preface. I recommend that you read that account before continuing with the technical material following it, as it explains how and why she has contributed to making your task easier and more enjoyable.
Speaking of Susan, here is a bit of correspondence between us on the topic of how one should read this book, which occurred after her first reading of what is now Chapter 2, "Hardware Fundamentals", and Chapter 3, "Basics of Programming".

Susan: Let me say this: to feel like I would truly understand it, I would really need to study this about two more times. Now, I could do this, but I am not sure you would want me to do so. I think reading a chapter once is enough for most people.
Steve: As a matter of fact, I would expect the reader of my book to read and study these chapters several times if necessary; for someone completely new to programming, I imagine that it would be necessary. Programming is one of the most complex human disciplines, although it doesn't take the mathematical skills of a subject such as nuclear physics, for example.3 I've tried to make my explanations as simple as possible, but there's no way to learn programming (or any other complex subject) without investing a significant amount of work and thought.

After she had gone through the text a number of times and had learned a lot from the process, we continued this discussion as follows:

Susan: Well then, maybe this should be pointed out in a Preface or something. Of course, it would eventually be obvious to the reader as it was to me, but it took me a while to come to that conclusion. The advantage of knowing this in advance is that maybe I would not be so discouraged that I was not brilliant after one read of a chapter.
Steve: I will indeed mention in the preface that the reader shouldn't be fooled by the casual tone into thinking that this is going to be a walk in the park. In any event, please don't be discouraged. It seems to me that you have absorbed a fair amount of very technical material with no previous background; that's something to be proud of!

We'll be hearing from Susan many more times in the course of the book. She will be checking in frequently in the form of extracts from the e-mail discussion we engaged in during the testing and revising process. I hope you will find her comments and my replies add a personal touch to your study of this technical material.
While we're on the topic of your studying, this would be a good time to tell you how to get updates and help with any errors you might find in the book or with any other questions you might have. The best way is to visit my WWW site, My e-mail address is [email protected].
In the event that you enjoy this book and would like to tell others about it, you might want to write an online review on, which you can do by visiting my home page and following the links to the "customer reviews" on Amazon.
I should also tell you how the various typefaces are used in the book. Helvetica is used for program listings, for terms used in programs, and for words defined in the C++ language. Italics are used primarily for technical terms that are found in the glossary, although they are also used for emphasis in some places. The first time that a particular technical term is used, it is in bold face; if it is a term defined in the C++ language, it will be in bold Helvetica.4
Please note that I have used a consistent Helvetica font for words like "classes" and other plurals of C++ terms, rather than putting the plural ending in a different font, e.g., "classes", because I find frequent changes of font inside individual words distracting. There are no plural terms in C++ itself. If you remember that, you won't make the mistake of thinking that "classes" is a C++ term, when the term is really "class". If you do make such a mistake, you'll quickly find out about it because you'll get an error message when you try to use the term incorrectly in your program.
Now that those preliminaries are out of the way, let's proceed. The next voice you will hear is that of Susan, my test reader. I hope you get as much out of her participation in this book as I have.