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Our 6 Favorite SQL Books for 2020

So you want to learn SQL and query databases? Great! Check out these six SQL books for an in-depth look at the language and you’ll be writing queries in no time!

You take SQL courses, participate in internet discussions and forums, watch tutorials on YouTube... What else can you do to develop your skills? Sometimes it’s good to reach for old-fashioned sources of knowledge: SQL books. Which book(s) should you choose? Here are my recommendations on the SQL books worth reading in 2020.

I based my choices on my experience learning SQL and what I think SQL learners need at different levels. Each book title is linked to its Amazon page so that you can easily find it. Any of these books is definitely worth reading.

1. Getting Started with SQL: A Hands-On Approach for Beginners

Getting Started with SQL: A Hands-On Approach for Beginners

Let's start with something for complete rookies. If you're just taking your first steps in SQL and don't even know what a JOIN or WHERE clause is, this book is for you. Getting Started with SQL: A Hands-On Approach for Beginners is old-school SQL learning. The author guides you through the most important SQL statements. You won't learn everything about SQL here, but you can get a pretty good foundation. What's more, apart from the syntax itself, there is also a bit about the field of Data Engineering – you learn how to efficiently design and manage databases to meet your needs. Not bad for just 177 pages!

What attracted me to this book? First, its brevity. Side issues and topics are not unnecessarily discussed. You get maximum knowledge in minimal doses.

Second, it's also pretty cool to learn SQLite and use SQLiteStudio. This is quite different from other books, where PostgreSQL, MS Server, or MySQL tend to predominate. SQLite is very popular and you can find it in various mobile applications and other smallish projects. It's great that the author decided on this SQL dialect; it provides slightly different possibilities for further development than other books on the market.

This is not a breakthrough book. It will give you the basics; as you go deeper into SQL, you’ll develop your knowledge elsewhere. It’s best for novice users who expect clear information. What’s missing from this? The chance to test your knowledge by writing real SQL queries, but this is common to all books. You won't find that between the pages – that's why you need to reach for an interactive online course, like our SQL Basics .

2. Practical SQL: A Beginner's Guide to Storytelling with Data

Practical SQL: A Beginner's Guide to Storytelling with Data

Practical SQL: A Beginner's Guide to Storytelling with Data by Anthony DeBarros is one of the most interesting books about SQL I've ever read. At first glance, it looks like a guide for complete rookies. But the author raises topics that will interest advanced users.

What I like most about this book is the approach to databases. You won't find any boring lectures – only the essence of SQL and real examples. If you don't have time to read about the history of databases and care only about the practical side of working with data, this is the perfect book for you.

The narrative in this book reminds me of the courses at LearnSQL.com. The author does not play with theory much; he immediately gets into the heart of the matter, giving examples from the worlds of business and data analysis.

And now the specifics: What will you learn from this book? First of all, you’ll learn about defining, organizing, and analyzing data sets. You’ll see how to write queries in PostgreSQL – a great open-source solution – and use the pgAdmin interface tool. Of course, thanks to the universality of the SQL language, everything you learn in PostgreSQL can also be used in MS SQL Server or MySQL. If you want hands-on practice, try our SQL from A to Z in PostgreSQL track. You’ll learn the full potential of this brilliant solution.

This book will also teach you how to create databases for your data, including choosing the right data types. You’ll discover how easy it is to aggregate, sort, and filter the data in SQL. This makes it quicker to find patterns and trends – the “storytelling with data” of the book’s title. You’ll also find examples and tasks based on real-world data sets, such as crime statistics and demographic data.

Why should you read this book? The practical knowledge it contains is useful for anyone entering the world of data analysis. And it’s written in a very accessible, non-academic language.

3. SQL Practice Problems: 57 beginning, intermediate, and advanced challenges for you to solve using a “learn-by-doing” approach

SQL Practice Problems: 57 beginning, intermediate, and advanced challenges for you to solve using a “learn-by-doing” approach

This book was proposed to me by my friend Agnieszka Kozubek-Krycuń. You might know her from our recent interview, A Mathematician in the World of SQL, and from our conversations about our SQL Courses of the Month series. Her recommendation alone should be enough to convince you to reach for this book; she really knows SQL. I read this book without hesitation and was not disappointed.

The rather lengthy title of this book precisely defines what’s inside. If SQL was a soup in a giant pot, this author reached down and pulled out the vegetables and meat, leaving the watery slush of theory to others.

This book won’t teach you everything you need to know about SQL, but it’s certainly a good supplement to an SQL course. Or, if you’re already familiar with the basics, it will broaden your knowledge. I’d say it’s best for people who know about SQL and databases and want to progress to more advanced analysis.

4. SQL for Data Analytics: Perform fast and efficient data analysis with the power of SQL

SQL for Data Analytics: Perform fast and efficient data analysis with the power of SQL

And now something for bigger boys and girls (in terms of SQL knowledge, that is). SQL for Data Analytics is a mine of knowledge about data and databases. Here, SQL is only the background for understanding the relationships between data. This is definitely something for advanced analysts and experts.

The Malik-Goldwasser-Johnson author trio leads the reader through academic considerations on how to understand and describe data, especially in a statistical sense. You’ll learn how to prepare data for later analysis using SQL as a practical tool. You’ll also find a lot of information about window functions, data import and export, how to combine the powers of SQL and Python, and how to work on complex data types. For dessert, you'll find ideas on increasing the efficiency of your analyses.

Make no mistake – this isn’t a book to breeze through; it’s packed with information. But it’s really worth it.

The book ends with a case study that boasts a very cool title: "Using SQL to Uncover the Truth". But don't worry; when creating SQL queries, you won't find aliens and Zone 51 (although somewhere there might be an advanced subquery that will tell us if there is extraterrestrial life). What you will find are interestingly-presented business scenarios and a large dose of the possibilities offered by modern data analysis.

5. Solving Business Problems Using SQL: A Definitive Guide for Beginners Who Want to Be Proficient in Database Design and Writing SQL

Solving Business Problems Using SQL: A Definitive Guide for Beginners Who Want to Be Proficient in Database Design and Writing SQL

Why do most of us learn SQL? To work with databases, right? But why do we want to work with databases? Basically, we want to earn money. That’s the basis of our professional activities. So, how can you write good queries and be successful at the same time?

Most books on the market focus on describing either the SQL syntax itself or its capabilities, functions, etc. Solving Business Problems Using SQL fills the gap between both approaches. Regardless of whether you are just starting your career with SQL or are an advanced user, you should give this book a try.

The language of this book is simple and accessible. The main audience is not hardcore programmers; it’s more for business users or project managers who would like to know how to talk to technical people. The examples given in it are based on real-world business scenarios. Thanks to this, you will be able to apply the knowledge gained here immediately in your company or project. And better working projects mean more money. Need I say more?

If you’re interested in the business use of SQL, we recommend our SQL Reporting track. You’ll see how data analysis and reporting can allow your company to function more efficiently and make better decisions.

6. The Art of SQL

The Art of SQL

Do you want to be an SQL warrior? Did you know that you can win this war only by getting to know your true opponent – your own stubbornness and laziness? If this sounds like something from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, it should. The author of The Art of SQL, when choosing the book’s title, was thinking about ancient Chinese wisdom. But you will not find philosophy and urgings to be like a cane in the wind here.

This book presents a completely different approach to SQL. This is not a function manual. It is rather an essay about strategies and tactics for this language. The table of contents doesn’t contain chapters about JOIN or WHERE. There are mainly reflections on the nature of SQL, on understanding its strengths and weaknesses, the best ways to use it, etc. This is a book for advanced engineers who want to achieve SQL Tao.

To fully understand the message of this book, you must be at least at an intermediate level in SQL. In it, you’ll learn how to create queries that will stand the test of time. You’ll also read a lot about advanced tactics for building applications using databases. Sometimes the theoretical descriptions are very advanced; at times, I got lost in them. But it's really worth making the effort on this book. It's a great source of inspiration and advice on maximizing database creation and management, effective and efficient code writing, etc. I’d say it’s what programmers like the most.

What Books Helped You Learn SQL?

These six SQL books are just the tip of the iceberg. They can improve your work and give you good motivation for further explorations. And this is not the last SQL book roundup we’ll do; I’ll review other great books here as I find them.

Maybe you've read a good SQL book lately? Let me know in the comments!

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