Al Idian

Practical Vim by Drew Neil


Practical Vim by Drew Neil is a rich, approachable book on the Vim editor. Its chapters are organized into themes like “Search”, “Copy and Paste”, and “Manage Multiple Files” — and each chapter is composed of several tips. Each tip focuses on one or two unique insights that concretely demonstrate Vim functionality to readers. Practical Vim is remarkable in that it has little-to-no fluff. On the other hand, it is one of those books that is so packed with valuable technical information that it warrants multiple readings.

At the time of writing, I have read most of Practical Vim a couple times. So far, I have not reached a point where I feel I have extracted most of what the book has to offer. One aspect in which Practical Vim shines is in its tips-based organization. This makes the book an excellent long-term resource as readers can consume it in digestible chunks, encouraging practice and retention.

Neil emphasizes at the beginning of Practical Vim that his book is a resource that is not meant to be read from front to back. Instead, readers are encouraged to jump around to chapters that interest them (keeping in mind that tips within each chapter are usually organized from novice level to advanced).

I found that Practical Vim was effective at helping rewire my mental patterns when editing text. In many cases, text editing tasks have become like miniature programming problems. At the beginning, this can feel like a lot of additional cognitive overhead — but with practice, things become second-nature and eventually much faster.

I started reading Practical Vim as a newbie. Now that I have read all of it (and applied some of it to my daily work), I feel confident enough to call myself an intermediate Vim user. Reading this book has equipped me to use Vim effectively in my day job. I now feel I know enough to have a sense of what is possible in Vim and what to look for when I am looking for help.

Near the end of the book, Neil talks about the concept of sharpening one’s sword. He wrote that, without a proper guide, many Vim beginners could end up sharpening the wrong side or doing things the wrong way. Vim is a powerful tool but it is also complex. It is very helpful to have a knowledgeable guide at least at the beginning, and that’s what Practical Vim was for me.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Practical Vim to any beginner or intermediate Vim user. For absolute beginners, I recommend jumping into the book after going through vimtutor a couple times. I also recommend starting out with the first few tips from each chapter. As for me, I am so convinced of this book’s lasting value that although I have so far read this book exclusively on a computer, I also intend to purchase a physical copy as a quick reference and to add to my personal library.