The last year has seen some amazing new technologies and continuing evolution of existing technologies in the world of ASP.NET and web development. Even with all the online resources available, reading books remains one of the best ways to get up to speed on new stuff quickly and to provide a reference to answer many everyday questions about how to implement features.
I've had a lot of books cross my desk the last few months, and it is time to sort the wheat from the chaff and let you know the ones that I've found most interesting and useful. These aren't necessarily books that I'd recommend you always keep within arm's reach as you develop applications and write code, nor would these books constitute a complete development library. Nevertheless, I'm confident you'll find them useful. Not all are directly about ASP.NET and its features, but all are directly related to ASP.NET development in some way or another.
ASP.NET 3.5 Unleashed, by Stephen Walther
SAMS Publishing, ISBN 0-672-33011-3
I have a number of books about general ASP.NET development, including several of Dino Esposito's always excellent books. But I always find that the first book I pull off the shelf for a refresher in how an ASP.NET feature that I haven't used in a while is ASP.NET 3.5 Unleashed. With almost 1,800 pages of content, it usually strains my wrist and shoulder as I pull it off the shelf, but the book rarely disappoints. It has useful descriptions of the various features with lots of code samples. All the code in the book is C#, but the CD includes all the samples in VB as well. The author is now with Microsoft, but I hope that won't stop him from updating the book when ASP.NET 4.0 comes out.
Microsoft ASP.NET and AJAX: Architecting Web Applications, by Dino Esposito
Microsoft Press, ISBN 978-0-7356-2621-8
This book was my biggest surprise of those I've read recently. I'm a coder at heart, not a hoity-toity (and highly paid) architect. So I didn't expect this book to have much of interest to me, other than maybe some of Dino's deep insights into using AJAX in new and different ways. But it ended up being one of the few technology books that I've recently from front to back. It provides a lot of information about how to put together AJAX applications, mostly using Microsoft's AJAX library. It is based on the library that ships with ASP.NET 3.5, but I think the book will continue to have value even after AJAX 4.0 comes out with Visual Studio 2010 next year. Probably the best parts of the book were about AJAX design patterns and client-side data binding, exploring angles to these topics I hadn't considered before. Highly recommended for both architects and coders who are building AJAX-ified ASP.NET applications.
SQL Server MVP Deep Dives, by Paul Nielson and 52 other MVPs
Manning Publications, ISBN 9781935182047
This is an extraordinary book that was released at the SQL PASS Summit in Seattle in early November. A group of 53 Microsoft MVPs came together to create a collaboration of some of the best SQL Server information you're likely to find in any one place. As I write this, I've only seen some of the final galleys as the book goes into final production, but I'm looking forward to getting the final book. Both developers and administrators will find a lot of very useful material here from some of the true luminaries of the SQL Server world: Paul Nielson, Kalen Delaney, Greg Low, Adam Machanic, Paul S. Randal, and Kimberly L. Tripp, to name just a few. I was honored to contribute chapter 16 about table-valued parameters. The book is organized into five parts: Design and Architecture, Development, Administration, Performance Tuning and Optimization, and Business Intelligence. Best of all, the authors are contributing every penny of our royalties to War Child International, a network of independent organizations, working across the world to help children affected by war. (By the way, even if you don't buy the book, please consider going to the War Child website and making a direct contribution. They do amazing work. Thanks!) This is a great resource if you build ASP.NET applications on a SQL Server back end.
ASP.NET MVC Framework Unleashed, by Stephen Walther
SAMS Publications, ISBN 978-0672329982
I've grown increasingly frustrated by ASP.NET Web Forms, as I wrote about in asp.netNOW here. It just seems like I have to fight Web Forms anytime I want to do anything slightly unusual. ASP.NET MVC is a tempting alternative, and this book has been a great way to get up to speed on how to use this radically new way of building ASP.NET applications. I'm only a part of the way through this one, but so far it is well-written and I'm getting a good grasp of how MVC works. With 700 pages, it goes into both the details of MVC in depth as well as other features, such as routing, added to ASP.NET to support MVC. The last part of the book consists of a walk-through that builds an Unleashed Blog Application using ASP.NET MVC. Besides MVC, the application shows how you can use test-driven development to create better applications.
By the way, another good ASP.NET MVC book looks to be Professional ASP.NET MVC 1.0. I've not seen a copy yet but have read excerpts. With an author list that includes Phil Haack, Scott Hanselman, and Scott Guthrie, it just has to be good!
That's a lot of reading to do! But if you need to get up to speed on any of these technologies, any of these books will provide you with good information to get you going.
Disclaimer: Some of these books I bought, and others I got free as review copies. I got several other review copies of books that didn't make the cut for this list.