Most helpful critical review
96 of 123 people found the following review helpful
Useful research summary; a disaster otherwise
on February 17, 2010
I have three texts in machine learning (Duda et. al, Bishop, and this one), and I can unequivocally say that, in my judgement, if you're looking to learn the key concepts of machine learning, this one is by far the worst of the three. Quite simply, it reads almost as a research monologue, only with less explanation and far less coherence. There's little/no attempt to demystify concepts to the newcomer, and the exposition is all over the map. There simply isn't a clear, coherent path that the authors set out to go on in writing a given chapter of this text; it's as if they tried to squeeze every bit of information of the most recent results into the chapter, with little regard to what such a decision might do to the overall readability of the text and the newcomer's understanding. To people who might disagree with me on this point, I'd recommend reading a chapter in Bishop's text and comparing it to similar content in this one, and I think you'll at least better appreciate my viewpoint, if not agree with it.
So you might be wondering, why do I even own the text given my opinion? Well, two reasons: (1) it cost 25 dollars through Springer and a contract they have with my university (definitely look into this before buying on Amazon!), and (2) if you actually already know the concepts, it is quite useful as a summary of what's out there. So to those who understand the basics of machine learning, and also have exposure to greedy algorithms, convex optimization, wavelets, and some other often-utilized methods in the text, this makes for a pretty good reference.
The authors are definitely very well-known researchers in the field, who in particular have written some good papers on a variety of machine learning topics (l1-norm penalized regression, analysis of boosting, to name just two), and thus this book naturally will attract some buzz. It may be very useful to someone like myself who is already familiar with much of what's in the book, or someone who is an expert in the field and just uses it as a quick reference. As a pedagogical tool, however, I think it's pretty much a disaster, and feel compelled to write this as to prevent the typical buyer -- who undoubtedly is buying it to learn and not to use as a reference -- from wasting a lot of money on the wrong text.