You cannot escape JavaScript. For years, I felt like JS was the horror-movie villain that just wouldn’t give up. I tried to avoid it. I ran, scrambled, and hid. But, like Jason Voorhees, it found me.

Seriously, though, the reality is that if you’re working in web development or design these days, you’re going to be using JavaScript in some capacity. Even if you’re working WordPress, you’re going to need at least a fundamental understanding of the language.

And let me tell you, when I realized that, it hurt me deep in my soul. I’ve already told you that I avoided JavaScript for years. I hated writing it, hated reading it, and pretty much hated everything about it. But with JS being the fastest growing language on the web, combined with nearly 30% of the WordPress source code itself moving from PHP to JS, I decided I had to learn at least enough JavaScript to be dangerous.

Like any good nerd, I scoured the internet to find the best JavaScript book I could get my hands on. By reading dozens upon dozens of reviews and trying out more than a handful books on my own, I think I’ve found a handful of texts that will help you learn JavaScript, even if you’re a complete newbie.

What I Look For in a JavaScript Book

I tend to look for three things in a tutorial book for any programming language:

  • Style and Tone
  • Project-based Learning
  • Affordability

With these in mind, I went out searching for the best JavaScript book for you and me to get over the initial newbie hump.

Style and Tone

I don’t expect Shakespeare out of coding books, but I do think that readability is important. If I wanted to get just the information, I could read the official documentation (though some dry docs are pretty useful and entertaining, like the Mozilla Developers Network).

I prefer funny writers who make lots of jokes and puns (go figure, right?), and if they’re not funny and weird, then I try to make sure they’re at least personable and conversational—kind of like a good college professor or a really attentive dad explaining something to his 6-year-old.

Project-based Learning

Pretty straightforward: I look for JavaScript books that don’t teach skills in isolation. Sure, you’re going to have to learn DOM manipulation by itself. You’re going to have to just get used to writing functions and scope.

But once you’ve grasped the fundamentals and how to write it out, I want to be able to see how it’s useful in the real-world. I want to be able to write a Pomodoro clock or an image gallery. Something where I see it in use instead of just writing out a few lines of code for muscle memory.


Being affordable means something different to us all. To some people, shelling out $500 for the best JavaScript book won’t be any problem at all—especially if it helps you land the perfect dev gig (or if your company can expense it). To others, anything over $20 bucks is on the high end because it’s a side-hustle skill that you can’t really devote a lot of resources to.

I go looking for something that hits that happy medium of being available and affordable to the vast majority of people in one way or another.

Allow Me to Present the Best JavaScript Book for Complete Newbies

Well, at least a smattering of the best JavaScript books. One of these should be the best book for you, though, depending on your situation and needs.

Eloquent JavaScript

Best JavaScript Book

Okay, this one’s awesome. Talking about affordability, you can’t go wrong with free. Well, it can be free. Eloquent JavaScript is, as the website says, “licensed under a Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial license. All code in this book may also be considered licensed under an MIT license.” So you can download the PDF, mobi, or epub of the text right now and start coding your heart out. (Heck, there’s also an online version you can use from your browser. No excuses, friendo.)

The only caveat I want to mention here are that the last update was in 2014 for the second edition, which was written before EC6 came out. It’s still such a fantastic base, I can’t not recommend it for newbs. It helped me out a bunch.

Price: free | More information

Full-Stack React

Best JavaScript Book

Project-based learning is important to me, like I said. With Full-Stack React, you really can’t get more project-based. Because React is a JavaScript framework for building web apps, there really is no way to isolate the JavaScript into elements on their own. You’re always going to see how they integrate into something larger.

I think this might have been the best JavaScript book for me because of that alone. It turns out that I really like React because of how it handles…well, pretty much everything. I learn the framework and utilities, and I see how JS code itself is implemented on the front-end and back-end with this book.

React itself is open-sourced by Facebook, which means it’s not going anywhere soon, and there’s a library called React Native that you can use to make native iOS and Android apps (not just web apps in a wrapper)—Instagram, for instance, is written in React Native.

Price: $39 (up to $399 for teams) | more information

Anything by O’Reilly Books

Best JavaScript Book

If you look for more than, I don’t know, ten seconds for JavaScript books (or programming language books in general, really), you’re going to see a plethora of titles published by O’Reilly. In many ways, they’re the go-to resource on languages, from bootcamps to college campuses.

So when as a JavaScript newbie, I needed to find the best JavaScript book, everyone and their brother pointed me toward O’Reilly.

Parsing all of the options you have there can be daunting, but I think there are a few that will be more helpful to complete newbies than others:

O’Reilly’s Best

  • JavaScript: The Definitive Guide covers pretty much everything in JavaScript ever. If you need a topic covered, it’s in here. Not only can you use this as a tutorial to learn like I did, but it’s also an astonishing reference guide when you need quick documentation.
  • JavaScript: The Good Parts has probably my favorite title of any tech book ever. Specifically designed for devs who’ve never touched JavaScript before, you don’t get anything but the parts of the language most applicable to you. Read this book. You’re welcome.
  • Modern JavaScript covers what’s happening in JavaScript right now. There are annual updates to the language (EC6, EC7, the upcoming EC8), tons of frameworks (Angular, Ember, Node, React, etc.), and even more libraries. More of a collection of references than tutorials, complete newbies can really gain a lot from this title as it breaks down exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

Each of these titles offers something a little different, but any one of them could be the best JavaScript book for you. Best of all, each and every one is complete newbie accessible.

Best of all, O’Reilly has a subscription service and a la carte options for their books. You can get a 10-day trial to see if the books work for you, and if they do, you can either stay subbed or start snagging the individual ebooks for as low as $4.99 off Amazon.

Price: free trial | more information

So What is the Best JavaScript Book for Complete Newbies?

For me, it’s a tie. Despite the ubiquity and ridiculous quality of O’Reilly’s library, I always fall back to Eloquent JavaScript as the one to recommend to folks. It’s the one that felt the most comfortable for me to dig into and get started. Plus it’s free, so you’re not out anything for giving it a shot.

That said, however, I am spending more time with Full-Stack React than anything else. That’s partially preference on my part because I want to learn React, but it’s also because building something makes it easier to remember JS fundamentals. You don’t get nuts-and-bolts JS tutorials because it’s library-based, but you learn implementation, which I find more helpful.

TL;DR: If you are just looking for that general, nuts-and-bolts JavaScript learnin’, go with Eloquent Javascript. It’s not tied to a specific framework, so it’ll work for anyone. And like I said, you can’t go wrong with Full-Stack React, unless you’re not allowed to use React or are already tied to a different framework.

What do you think the best JavaScript book is? Let’s talk about that good book learnin’ in the comments!

Article thumbnail image by Teguh Jati Prasetyo /

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