Who’d’ve thought it would be this difficult to buy a book?

I’ve been playing with Scheme lately, and the book ‘Beautiful Racket’ made me want to learn a bit more about parsing and interpreting in general, and creating my own domain-specific languages.

When I was at university, there was only one book for this - the ‘dragon book’. It has been a long time since I read it, and I’ve pretty much forgotten all about BNF notation and everything else since then. And I’ve no idea where my copy of the book ended up.

The good news is that in the decades since my reading the book, they've produced a second edition. And it’s not just a fancy re-print, it has new chapters and algorithms, bringing it all up to date with when it was published. And instead of the red dragon on the cover of the first edition, there’s a purple dragon on the second edition.

The bad news is that it’s out of print.

'No problem’, thought I. ‘I’ll just order a used copy from Amazon...'

And here’s where the tale takes an odd turn.

I ordered the book from an Amazon reseller, AmysBookstoreUK. Three days later my order was cancelled. No reason was given, I just got a note from Amazon that my order was cancelled.


I tried again. This time I ordered from Meridian Bookstore. And it was despatched!

Then I got an email from them:

I wanted to inform you that since we have not heard from you regarding this order, we had to cancel this order and we issued you a full refund. The reason is that we discovered the last copy of this item was substantially water-damaged and it wasn't in a condition we could ship to our customers.  You may have received a dispatch notification from Amazon, simply disregard that notification since it was sent in error.

And my money was refunded.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a reseller cancel an order on me before this, and here two resellers did it for the same item. What was going on?

So I tried again. And this time I was really careful.

I checked the Wikipedia page for the book. It lists the actual book website, which I’ve never been able to connect to, and the publishers page for the book, which requires Flash (remember Flash‽), as well as giving the second edition’s ISBN as 0-321-48681-1.

It turns out that ISBN is used by the second edition in the US, but also used by the ‘international’ edition in other parts of the world. And according to some reports, the international edition isn’t up to the quality of the regular second edition.

This review refers NOT to the original 2006 edition but to the 2014 re-print by Pearson India, via DKIndia. ISBN - 978-93-325-1866-7. The inside page of this book reads "This edition is authorised for sale only in India, BanglAdesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Circulation of this edition outside of these territories is UNAUTHORISED." Therefore this edition should not be available to us in the UK.

The back of this Indian edition is even more ominous where it says "For these special editions, the editorial team at Pearson has collaborated with educators across the world to address a wide range of subjects and requirements, equipping students with the best possible learning tools" (MH so far so good). It continues ....

"This international edition preserves the cutting-edge approach and pedagogy of the original, BUT MAY ALSO FEATURE ALTERATIONS, CUSTOMIZATION AND ADAPTATIONS FROM THE UNITED STATES VERSION" (Caps MH).

This is somewhat concerning, as there is no indication within the book what has been changed, altered or customised!


Also some readers have reported on the reviews below, that some of the algorithms are wrong. Again I don't know the validity of these statements.


(Source: Amazon review by ‘MH’)

I didn’t want to waste time and money reading a book that had the wrong algorithms! (Possibly even worse, the international edition doesn’t have a dragon on the cover.) I could buy the international edition fairly cheaply if I wanted - Abe Books currently have it for £11.83 - but I persisted in trying to track down an actual copy of the proper second edition.

And I found it!

Book Listing

A hardcover of the second edition in ‘Used - Good’ condition. I ordered it from Princes Bookshop, a reseller with a London address, and anticipated the book turning up.

Then, a few days later, I received a FedEx package containing a new, shrinkwrapped copy of the international edition with a sender’s address in India. This confused me greatly. Was it one of the cancelled orders? One of them did have a despatch notice, even though it was refunded.

No, it turns out this was sent by Princes Bookshop. It was neither hardcover, nor used.

It looks very like they’ve put up a listing for the hardcover second edition and then just gone and ordered a new copy of the Indian international edition and had it shipped directly to me. And did it aiming to pocket the difference between the £11.83 I could have got the international edition for and the £41.75 I actually paid for the second edition. That seems dodgy to me.

I queried this with Princes Bookshop, naturally. Among other things, they said:

We have shipped the same book which you have ordered and the detailed description of the book is available at the web site in our condition note. You can please find the same in your order details page and please note the contents of the book is exactly same as regular edition.

And later:

I am sorry to hear that you’ve received the wrong edition. All our items are listed by their ISBN numbers which does not identify any changes to edition, Amazon list our items and provide the photos of these titles.

I’m not convinced. I can understand some ISBN confusion (although I’d expect a bookseller to be an expert in that area), but listing a used hardcover and shipping a brand new softcover? Hmm.

They’ve offered me a 30% discount if I keep the book. Even at a 30% discount that would be nearly 3 times what I could have bought the international edition for.

I'm trying to return the book for a full refund plus whatever it costs to ship the book back to them. The whole episode leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

And I still haven’t got a copy of the dragon book, plus now I can’t trust resellers who claim they have a copy in stock.

Who’d’ve thought it would be this difficult to buy a book?

Tags: Clueless Idiocy
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