20 years of Programming Perl

The first edition of Programming Perl, published 21 years ago, was actually Programming perl with a lowercase p. It was also before the time before the O’Reilly Perl books shifted to their blue color. The “Pink Camel” is the original, covering up through Perl 4. Tim O’Reilly himself was its editor. How’s that for prestige?

The first three editions were published at about five year intervals, tracking the major changes in Perl. The second edition came out a couple of years after the release of Perl 5 itself and was completely rewritten (just like perl). The latest edition makes up for 12 years of missing updates. Why? In 2005, many people thought Perl 6 would be there by Christmas. It took awhile for people to figure out that Perl 5 wasn’t going away, and then awhile to update the book for everything that’s happened since then.

550 fortnights, 1,720 folios, 6 authors, 4 editors, ≅0.5 light-nanoseconds, ¾ stone

But, let’s get down to numbers. Here’s the physical details, with some deltas. Although the Fourth Edition looks big, it’s bigger at a slower rate than the previous editions except for the thickness. The latest edition has a thicker paper so it has a huge jump in size.

Year (Δ)¹ January 1991 September 1996 (+5.67) July 2000 (+3.83) February 2012 (+11.5)
Perl version² 4.036 5.003 5.6.0 5.16
Authors Wall & Schwartz Wall, Christiansen, Schwartz, & Potter Wall, Christiansen, & Orwant Christiansen, foy, Wall, & Orwant
Editor Tim O’Reilly Steve Talbot Linda Mui Andy Oram
Pages (Δ)³ 482 670. (+188) 1,104 (+434) 1,184 (+80)
Thickness, cm (Δ)⁴ 2.50 3.49 (+0.99) 4.13 (+0.64) 5.71 (+1.58)
Weight, grams (Δ)⁵ 669 1,052 (+383) 1,364 (+312) 1,644 (+280)
Page density, pages/cm (Δ) 193 157 (-36) 267 (+110) 207 (-60)
Linear density, grams/cm (Δ) 268 301 (+33) 330. (+29) 288 (-42)
Amazon.com price, USD⁶ 4.46 7.53 41.64 29.19
Catalog page O’Reilly O’Reilly O’Reilly O’Reilly


  1. Official publication month and year, as registered with the Library of Congress. This might be significantly different than the date of its first public availability.
  2. The latest Perl version as mentioned in the preface.
  3. The greatest page number using arabic numerals, ignoring front matter and unnumbered pages.
  4. The width (short dimension) of the spine, measured with an uncalibrated wooden ruler, ignoring expansion for water retention (ruler and book) and damage (ruler and book). I did not bake the ruler or books before measuring. Books and ruler are stored at about 10% relative humidity.
  5. Measured with an uncalibrated US Postal Scale reporting to 0.1 ounces. This also ignores water retention. Books are stored at about 10% relative humidity.
  6. In 2012 dollars, using the lowest price on Amazon.com for books advertised as “New”.
  1. I also own all four editions, although my first edition looks a little more tattered than yours. It was given to me by a co-worker that introduced me to Perl back in 1993, although most my coding continued to be in C. I became a regular/fanatic user in 1997, bought the 2nd edition
    (which is really tattered) and looked forward to each new edition. I just got the 4th in the mail a week ago, just need more time to read it. Thanks for the great summary!

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