The Database Relational Model

Author: C.J. Date
ISBN: 0201612941
Publisher: Addison Wesley

You can almost see the racks of database books from the back of the shop. While the shelves are often dominated by the cheap looking orange Oracle Press books, their black cover range is much nicer, or the red and black Microsoft Press tomes you’ll also find a respectable number written by C.J Date. One of the fields most renowned experts. What you won’t find are many books written by E.F Codd, and, considering how much of the database world exists due to his vision and work, that’s a big shame.

E.F Codd was an IBM employee who essentially devised, documented and pioneered the Relational Database model. He shared his work with the rest of IBM (and often the outside world) in a series of papers. Each one presented a number of concepts that shaped the database world of today, unfortunately, they are not the easiest of reading and so very few people know exactly how much of an impact Codds work made. In “The Database Relational Model: A Retrospective Review and Analysis : A Historical Account and Assessment of E. F. Codd’s Contribution to the Field of Database Technology” C.J Date focuses on their most important sections and attempts to make them accessible. And I think he succeeds.

Eleven (of the twelve) chapters focus on extracting the educational (and often still relevant) points from each of the papers it covers. The author does an admirable job of explaining what worked and what was left by the wayside while also conveying the sense of achievement behind the work. Codd went from network and hierarchal databases, which at the time had no model behind them (Codd actually provided the first definition of what they were, everyone else just assumed the implementation was enough), to define a whole field that’s still one of the cornerstones of modern computing.

Now let’s be honest, while this book presents the material in a more accessible style than the original papers, it’s still a very dry book. In addition to highlighting the papers concepts the author also provides a critique of some of Codds work. I found this to be a useful aside but I know some of the books other readers have found it annoying.

If you’re interested in where most of the modern relational concepts came from then it’s worth 710 and an afternoon of your time. If you’re not then it’s a cure for insomnia and should be avoided.