In this article, we’ll recommend the top books for SQL users, covering everything from beginner to advanced topics.
No, SQL isn’t dead! This standard database query language — which enables you to manipulate data in relational databases — is still relevant today. It’s a powerful tool that can be used for everything from extracting information from databases to creating entire applications. If you’re working with databases, then you need to know SQL.
- Introduction to SQL Database Manipulation
- Why So Many SQL Books?
- Best SQL Introductory-level Books
- Best Intermediate SQL Skills Books
- Best Specific SQL Engines Books
- Best Advanced and Specialized SQL Books
- One-size-fits-all SQL Books
- Useful Tips
- Final Thoughts
Introduction to SQL Database Manipulation
SQL is a standard database query language that allows users to easily manipulate and extract data from databases. It’s the language for managing relational databases, and it’s used by many large organizations and applications of all sorts.
SQL can be used for a wide variety of tasks, including retrieving and modifying data in databases, and creating entire applications.
Despite its widespread use, SQL can be quite complex and challenging to learn. However, there are many excellent resources available that can help users get up to speed with the basics of this powerful language.
Why So Many SQL Books?
In this article, I’ll be recommending 18 SQL books. 18 books?! I imagine you’re wondering why so many. Shouldn’t one single valuable resource be enough?
Well, consider this:
- There are slightly different “flavors” (implementations) of SQL, such as those for Oracle Database or Microsoft SQL Server.
- As mentioned, SQL can escalate in complexity. (There are different “levels”, so speak.)
- If you’re already a DB admin, specialization can be the name of the game for you (optimization, analytics, reporting, and so on).
So, depending on what your current background is, and where and what you’re aiming at, some specific books might be more relevant to you. For this reason, I’ve done a bit of curation and cherry-picked a single SQL book per topic or area of specialization.
Best SQL Introductory-level Books
The books discussed below are ideal for those just starting out with SQL.
SQL in 10 Minutes, Sams Teach Yourself
- Author: Ben Forta (Adobe Systems’ Director of Developer Relations)
- Publishing: Fifth edition (December 10, 2019)
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.7/5 (454 ratings)
While I’m not aware of anyone who could read 256 pages in ten minutes, SQL in 10 Minutes, Sams Teach Yourself does provide code examples, tips, cautions and plenty of useful notes in a somewhat pocket format.
The author, Ben Forta — who even has a Wikipedia entry! — is Adobe’s Senior Director of Education Initiatives and has an extensive bibliography, as well as an educational blog.
Additionally, SQL in 10 Minutes is presented in full color, which makes a huge difference when it comes to reading code, thanks to syntax highlighting.
If you’re after a short, concise, yet informational read, SQL in 10 Minutes, Sams Teach Yourself is probably a good fit.
Learning SQL: Master SQL Fundamentals
- Author: Alan Beaulieu
- Publishing: second edition (May 12, 2009)
- Paperback: 338 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.2/5 (158 ratings)
Learning SQL: Master SQL Fundamentals is a bit longer than the previous book, as it also touches on some of the fundamentals for specific database management systems (DBMS) such as MySQL, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server.
Alan Beaulieu has structured Learning SQL quite well, with every chapter presenting a self-contained lesson on a key SQL concept or technique, with illustrations, annotated examples, and exercises at the end of each chapter.
SQL for Dummies
- Author: by Allen G. Taylor
- Publishing: ninth edition (December 11, 2018)
- Paperback: 512 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.4/5 (174 ratings)
The For Dummies series is a classic that approaches technical, often intimidating topics in layman terms that that anyone can understand. Veteran author Allen G. Taylor plays the part and breaks down SQL in as clear and simple a manner as possible.
For a book that’s intended to be easy to understand, SQL for Dummies gets to cover a lot of ground — not just the basics of the SQL standard, but even some specifics for Microsoft Access, Oracle Database, Microsoft SQL Server, and MySQL. And it’s on ninth edition already, so not bad at all.
And if you like the For Dummies series, the same author also put out the third edition (April 23, 2019) of an extended 768 pages version, SQL All-in-One For Dummies, which also happens to be a quite popular one (4.6/5 over 782 ratings).
This all-in-one version claims to ship “8 books inside” (marketers be geniuses!):
- SQL Concepts
- Relational Database Development
- SQL Queries
- Data Security
- SQL and Programming
- SQL, XML, and JSON
- Database Tuning Overview
- Reserved Words and Glossary
Let’s now move on to books pitched at an audience with intermediate SQL skills.
Learning SQL: Generate, Manipulate, and Retrieve Data
- Author: Alan Beaulieu
- Publishing: third edition (April 21, 2020)
- Paperback: 377 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.6/5 (371 ratings)
Learning SQL: Generate, Manipulate, and Retrieve Data aims to cover more advanced topics — such as analytical functions and working with large databases — while also starting with the very basics. So if you’re starting from scratch but want to go the extra mile, this is a good title.
Learning SQL aims to sit somewhere in between the for Dummies approach and the lengthier reference “bible” books. As the book’s blurb puts it:
There are plenty of books out there that treat you like an idiot, or some other flavor of simpleton, but these books tend to just skim the surface. At the other end of the spectrum are reference guides that detail every permutation of every statement in a language, which can be useful if you already have a good idea of what you want to do but just need the syntax. This book strives to find the middle ground…
The Art of SQL
- Author: Stéphane Faroult and Peter Robson
- Publishing: first edition (March 1, 2006)
- Paperback: 370 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.6/5 (65 ratings)
In The Art of SQL, the authors take an interesting angle: they approach database applications as if they were military complains, visualizing data as row upon row upon row of enemy columns to be winnowed down and slashed away.
Paying homage to Sun Tzu’s ancient Chinese military treatise The Art of War, The Art of SQL covers all of the basics and more, paying attention to performance, optimization, and overall design.
Refactoring SQL Applications
And if you like the sound of The Art of SQL, you might be interested in Refactoring SQL Applications — also by Stéphane Faroult in collaboration with Pascal L’Hermite — which (as the title suggests) is more of an advanced read and a natural follow-up to The Art of SQL.
Best Specific SQL Engines Books
In this section, we’ll focus on books that teach you specifics on specific SQL engines.
- Author: Joel Murach
- Publishing: third edition (March 22, 2019)
- Paperback: 628 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.9/5 (6 ratings)
There was a time when MySQL was king, and while the DB landscape has changed much in recent years, MySQL still plays a significant role in the relational database management system (RDBMS) landscape.
The Murach series is a well reputed one that covers every topic in a fair amount of detail (we’re talking over 600 pages). So if MySQL is your engine, Murach’s MySQL is your reference.
Learning MySQL and MariaDB: Heading in the Right Direction with MySQL and MariaDB
On the topic of changes in the RDBMS landscape, MariaDB is a community-developed, commercially supported fork of MySQL. So they’re both essentially the same engine, but with a few glitches here and there, as both projects have continued to advance along different development lines after the fork.
Written by a completely different author, Russell J. T. Dyer (and by an entirely different publisher, too), Learning MySQL and MariaDB (4.1/5 over 20 ratings) covers in 408 pages what you need to know for both, migration matters included.
PostgreSQL: Up and Running: A Practical Guide to the Advanced Open Source Database
- Author: Regina Obe and Leo Hsu
- Publishing: third edition (November 28, 2017)
- Paperback: 312 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.4/5 (89 ratings)
While it hasn’t always been the most popular engine, PostgreSQL calls itself the world’s most advanced open source relational database, and many nerds — including me — would agree with that.
PostgreSQL: Up and Running covers:
- basic administration (role management, backup, restore)
psqlcommand-line utility and the
- powerful SQL constructs not generally found on other DBMSs
- several different languages to write database functions
- foreign data wrappers
- built-in replication
And, of course, a whole lot more …
SQL QuickStart Guide: The Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Managing, Analyzing, and Manipulating Data with SQL
- Author: Walter Shields
- Publishing: first edition (November 18, 2019)
- Paperback: 249 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.6/5 (1,356 ratings)
Walter Shields has written this extremely popular book for Microsoft SQL. It comes with a lot of extra goodies, such as:
- free access to a sample database
- an SQL browser app
- comprehension quizzes
- and other digital resources
Additionally, SQL QuickStart Guide comes with plenty of illustrations, which also makes it a fun read. Perhaps best of all, it even has an audiobook version!
Oracle PL/SQL Programming
- Authors: Steven Feuerstein and Bill Pribyl
- Publishing: sixth edition (March 18, 2014)
- Paperback: 1,380 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.7/5 (108 ratings)
Oracle PL/SQL Programming — which has been dubbed “the Oracle bible” — is considered the best and most definitive guide by the Oracle community.
With six editions and counting, author Steven Feuerstein (website, Wikipedia) covers everything there is to say about Oracle Database in well over 1,000 pages. So you’ll need to make some room in your library or this one.
Best Advanced and Specialized SQL Books
Let’s now look at some books designed for advanced users of SQL.
SQL for Data Scientists: A Beginner’s Guide for Building Datasets for Analysis
- Author: Renee M. P. Teate
- Publishing: first edition (August 27, 2021)
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.6/5 (59 ratings)
SQL for Data Scientists is more of a specialized guide, but it isn’t a hard read by any means. Aside from explaining fundamental SQL syntax, author Renee M. P. Teate explains how to:
- conduct exploratory data analysis
- construct, filter, and sort your own datasets
- design datasets from analytical reports and machine learning applications
All of this is done using SQL.
SQL for Data Analytics: Perform Efficient and Fast Data Analysis with the Power of SQL
Different author. Different publisher. Related topic. SQL for Data Analytics, by Chad Knowles, delivers on its very long title in just 100 pages. And according to its reviews, readers love it! (It has 4.9/5 stars, with over 210 ratings.)
SQL Cookbook: Query Solutions and Techniques for Database Developers
- Author: Anthony Molinaro
- Publishing: first edition (January 10, 2006)
- Paperback: 636 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.6/5 (299 ratings)
The premise for SQL Cookbook is:
You know the rudiments of SQL query language, yet you feel you aren’t taking full advantage of SQL’s expressive power. You’d like to learn how to do more work with SQL, inside the database, before pushing data across the network to your applications. You’d like to take your SQL skills to the next level.
The book covers window functions, SQL Server’s
UNPIVOT operators, Oracle’s
MODEL clause, PostgreSQL’s
GENERATE_SERIES function, and a lot more.
For All SQL Users
The author of SQL Cookbook, Anthony Molinaro, in collaboration with Robert de Graaf, has also put out the second edition (November 24, 2020) of a shorter version intended for a broader audience: SQL Cookbook: Query Solutions and Techniques for All SQL Users — which has so far scored 4.6/5 from over 135 ratings.
It’s 570 pages long and … it has another great cover design (maybe not the best way to judge a book, I know, but I really do love O’Reilly Media book covers! 😻)
SQL Performance Explained: Everything Developers Need to Know about SQL Performance
- Author: Markus Winand
- Publishing: first edition (January 1, 2012)
- Paperback: 204 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.7/5 (96 ratings)
We’re fine tuning here. We’re talking performance, efficiency, scalability, high availability, load balancing, clustering, pipelined execution, and more. In SQL Performance Explained, author Markus Winand gets specific and goes straight to the point. Amazingly, this extremely technical read is just 200 pages!
If you’re the database administrator and call yourself an expert, this is the book you check for reference.
One-size-fits-all SQL Books
We’ll now look at some offerings for those who just want to find a resource that covers a bit of everything.
SQL: The Ultimate Beginner, Intermediate & Expert Guides to Master SQL Programming Quickly with Practical Exercises
- Author: Mark Reed
- Publishing: first edition (July 10, 2022)
- Paperback: 346 pages
- Ranking on Amazon: 4.7/5 (282 ratings)
Whenever you read a title that includes the words “the ultimate resource” or similar, you can be pretty confident it’s an exaggeration. And considering the length of this book, and the modest credentials of the author in the field, this is almost certainly the case here.
However, that said, SQL: The Ultimate Beginner, Intermediate & Expert Guides, by Mark Reed, could serve as a good primer by touching on a number of topics on all levels, so that you have a roadmap on what you could expand on later, should you need to do so.
While not an actual book, a cheat sheet can be extremely handy when all you need to do is just eyeball the keyword or command sequence for some specific task.
Not surprisingly, this SQL Guide, by BarCharts, is the number one best seller on Amazon in the SQL category! 👏
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Among its many titles, you might consider checking:
Just for the fun of it, here are ten overall tips when working with SQL:
- In SQL, data is organized into tables. Tables are similar to folders in a file system, where each table stores a collection of information.
- In SQL, you can access data in any order you like by using the
GROUP BYclause is used to group data together. This is useful for aggregating data, such as finding the average price of a product.
HAVINGclause is used to filter data based on conditions. This is useful for finding products that are overpriced.
LIMITclause is used to limit the number of rows returned by a query. This is useful for paginating data.
OFFSETclause is used to skip a certain number of rows. This is useful for paginating data.
DISTINCTclause is used to remove duplicate rows from a query. This is useful for finding unique values.
LIKEclause is used to match text values. This is useful for finding data that contains a certain word or phrase.
INclause is used to check if a value is in a list. This is useful for finding data that meets certain criteria.
BETWEENclause is used to check if a value is within a range. This is useful for finding data that falls within a certain range.
SQL is a powerful language that can help you unlock the insights hidden in your data. With the right book, you can quickly learn how to use SQL to your advantage.
The books on this list are some of the best ones available for SQL users, and whether you’re a beginner, an experienced user, or even an expert looking after very specific needs, there’s surely a book on this list that will be suited for you. 📚💥
That said — as with any practical skill — coding is best learned by doing. So get involved with a project (real or just for play), and make sure you spend more time coding than reading.