O'Reilly published a series of "cookbooks" which are general-purpose manual-like computer books that usually have wide but shallow coverage of a topic. What's a good word that's less rhetorical than "cookbook" but has a similar connotation?

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    O'Reilly Cookbooks are anything but shallow. Where else would you find lots of example code followed by detailed discussion about how it works? Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 9:36
  • Tutorials? Tutorial book?
    – Mou某
    Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 13:23

7 Answers 7


I'd say this word could be changed by either "Handy-book" or "Reference book". Although, cookbook fits amazingly with the context, due to the big amount of recipes which can be found inside these sort of books to avoid common issues.

  • Any single-word options?
    – qazwsx
    Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 0:59
  • 2
    Well, it's hard to say because it depends mostly on the environment you are in. However, compendium or enchiridion would help you sir...
    – user82471
    Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 1:12
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    I've never heard handy-book. But handbook (single word) seems like a great answer to this question!
    – alcas
    Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 7:32

O'Reilly, being a book publisher, Tom Christiansen, being an author and a regular EL&U contributor, knows English well. There's a reason why they chose to call them "cookbooks" rather than the other terms suggested here so far.

The goal of the series is to provide short snippets of computer code that programmers can use to solve frequently encountered problems: these are called "recipes". These "cookbooks" assume that you are already somewhat familiar with the language, and just need prepackaged solutions for specific problems. For example, the PHP Cookbook would have a recipe for shuffling elements in an array. It contains a textbook implementation of the Fisher-Yates shuffling algorithm, which you can copy-and-paste into your program. There is an explanation of why the code works, and how it avoids common pitfalls when programmers try to implement their own shuffling algorithm.

Alternatives for "cookbook" just don't convey the concept of the book series correctly:

  • It's not a "reference book". A reference book might list functions available in the PHP standard library, but not with an emphasis to teach you how to combine such functions to solve more complex problems.
  • "Handy book" seems more like a description of O'Reilly's In a Nutshell series, or maybe Pocket references.
  • "Bible" just replaces one metaphor with another less-appropriate one. A typical "bible" in programming consists of a tutorial followed by an appendix that contains a reference to all of the library functions available. (In my mind, these "bibles" are big, heavy volumes with lots of "filler" material that could be either more concise or would be better in an online format.)
  • A "how to" book is too vague. It could, for example, be a complete beginner's guide to programming, with instructions for how to install a PHP interpreter, launch a text editor, etc.
  • A "survey" could be an overly abstract treatment of the subject matter, discussing what features and packages are available, what the development roadmap for the language looks like, etc. In contrast, the O'Reilly Cookbooks provide very concrete advice for a wide variety of problems.
  • A "manual" comes close. However, it doesn't have the same creativity implications as "cookbook": once you see how the example code works, you can be inspired to adapt the code to suit your needs when creating derivative works. Rather, following a manual implies a very strict process that discourages deviation.

Basically, "cookbook" is O'Reilly's answer to their own .

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    Actually, this is all my fault. Honest.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 3:28

The term how-to book might suit your purpose.


I think manual can be another appropriate 'single-word' definition:

Comprehensive and step-by-step guide to a particular topic for both beginners and practitioners that also serves as a reference book. A manual details what is given and what is required, explains how to put the presented information into practice, and instructs how to solve problems as they occur. This term is commonly used interchangeably with handbook.


A word connoting a wide but shallow treatment on a subject is survey:

1 : the act or an instance of surveying: as
   a : a broad treatment of a subject

You could call it your IT Bible.

You could pretty much put any tech word in front of Bible and it gives the message that it's an essential book.


I agree with Erik, How to cook/farm/study describes the idea well. Also I'd add 'Know-how' eg. Tech know-how or Science know-how

These are both more in-line with the informal idea of 'cookbook'

Hope this helps!

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