Top 10 ArcGIS Books For Beginners

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Geolocation is now entry-level technology and I’ve grown fond of the recent advancements in geo apps. ArcGIS is a cloud-based platform for mapping content using a proprietary geographic information system(GIS).

Learning ArcGIS can be quite a challenge since you’re learning the system along with an API. But with the right learning materials you can start with ArcGIS quickly building real-world projects.

In this post I’ll share the 10 best books to teach yourself ArcGIS from scratch. If you put in the work and check with other online resources you can build some incredible ArcGIS applications while radically improving your skillset.

Best ArcGIS Book

If you’re a complete beginner with no idea where to start I’d recommend Getting to Know ArcGIS. The book is massive with over 700 pages and dozens of exercises tailored to help you understand the fundamentals of ArcGIS and the GIS geodata system.

It’s a very handy reference guide as well and the exercises work for both developers and data analysts.


Understanding GIS: An ArcGIS Project Workbook

Data analysis goes hand-in-hand with ArcGIS and the best way to learn is through practical exercises. Understanding GIS: An ArcGIS Project Workbook spans 360 pages offering the best tools for data scientists/analysts to understand spatial data mapping.

Each tutorial covers a very specific feature walking you through the basics step by step. Each practice project comes with its own ArcGIS dataset which comes on a DVD inside the book’s cover.

By the end of this book you’ll be working to solve a city zoning problem by finding the best location for a new park in southern California. The exercises are realistic and very detailed, but also geared specifically towards data analysts.

What I like most about this book is the realistic nature of each exercise. You pull real data from Los Angeles’ DPW searching along the LA river to find patches for parks based to ArcGIS data.

This is easily one of the most practical books in this list. It works great for complete beginners and the exercises are very approachable.


Getting to Know ArcGIS

If you’re just getting into ArcGIS from the beginning then I have to recommend Getting to Know ArcGIS as your first book. It spans over 700+ pages with dozens of practice exercises teaching how to build maps & analyze custom geographic data.

Very few(if any) other introductory books offer this much information. You’ll start with the basics of ArcGIS but quickly move into technical features like building custom maps and populating a map with data from the ArcGIS system.

Much later in the book you’ll get into custom data storage and processing for a local webapp. This includes data analysis techniques and relating data based on common locations.

You can pick up this book with zero prior experience and still feel very comfortable with the lessons. By the end you’ll have a much deeper understanding of ArcGIS from a technical perspective and a programming perspective.


ArcGIS By Example

If you’re looking to build web or software applications then ArcGIS By Example should be right up your alley. This book spans 260 pages covering the ArcObjects SDK to help you build custom maps and add features onto existing map data.

The book’s author Hussein Nasser has over 10 years of experience working as a GIS architect. His writing style is easy to consume and his knowledgebase is easily in the top 10% of developers working in the GIS dev space.

In this book you learn through real examples teaching how to connect into geodatabases and how to pull data from ArcGIS maps. The ArcObjects queries can be used to add or edit features on existing maps and help you visualize changes for the future.

You’ll also learn about remote sensing and more advanced tools found within ArcGIS for manipulating data from other geodatabases.

If you’re a complete beginner you’ll learn a lot from this book. It may seem short but the content is exceptionally detailed. These exercises are perfect for all newer GIS developers and analysts regardless of background.


ArcGIS for JavaScript Developers by Example

Here’s another Packt book with much more focus on the WWW side of development. ArcGIS for JavaScript Developers by Example covers six individual projects that teach how to build with ArcGIS on top of a JavaScript library.

The authors go into great detail with the ArcGIS JavaScript API including source code and step-by-step lessons for everything. They include 3rd party libraries like the Dojo Toolkit to simplify development and make your job a tad easier.

Each lesson reads clearly with a colloquial yet technical writing style. The authors start with the basics of JS-powered ArcGIS and quickly move into best practices for querying spatial data and processing map data for GIS analytics.

While this book focuses solely on JavaScript it can still work well for software developers. But I would mostly recommend this book for web developers who want to connect JS-based webapps into the ArcGIS system.

Near the end of the book you’ll learn how to work with different mapping frameworks and charting libraries to render data visually. The lessons are somewhat complex so it’s best if you already have some GIS experience. But you can get by as a complete newbie just fine.


ArcGIS Blueprints

If you’re looking for best practices and recommended workflows for ArcGIS development then this book is for you. ArcGIS Blueprints teaches development with Python and the wxPython toolkit.

Before picking up this book you should already be familiar with Python and the ArcGIS system. You don’t need to be an expert in either, but you should be able to follow along with basic syntax requirements.

This book teaches different methods for visualization and processing over ArcGIS data with Python. The authors cover ArcPy mapping and automation libraries for data visualizations on the fly.

Each chapter offers a different technique and most examples use real-world data. For example, in chapters 4-5 you’ll learn how to analyze crime data clusters using ArcPy and Plotly. These real examples help cement workflows into your brain so you get more comfortable writing Python from scratch.

This is really a great book for more complex ArcGIS development. However the title is a tad disingenuous because it does require knowledge of Python and ArcGIS before starting.

But if you’re a developer ready for more complex tasks then I’d highly recommend this book.


Learning ArcGIS Pro

Commercial ventures and enterprise businesses have a lot to gain from ArcGIS when used correctly. Learning ArcGIS Pro is a guide to ArcGIS Pro data analysis using both 2D and 3D maps for visualization.

This book targets developers and data analysts who have some experience in other platforms like ArcMap. You’ll learn how to create GIS-based projects using the pro application on Microsoft Windows. Specific exercises teach how to create, customize, and render complex maps from scratch.

You’ll also learn how to import/export data and how to create automated tasks for your ArcGIS workflow.

I do think a beginner could pick up this book and work through ArcGIS Pro with relative ease. But the exercises get very technical and it’s better to have some experience working with maps before picking up this book.


Learning ArcGIS Geodatabases

Most new users won’t have experience with geodatabases but they’re a vital part of the ArcGIS workflow. Learning ArcGIS Geodatabases explores how data can be stored in singular files and how these can affect your data analysis workflow.

The book is pretty short offering just 150 pages. But over each chapter you’ll study practical exercises covering ArcGIS implementation for web, desktop, and mobile applications. You’ll learn about tables and feature classes that connect directly with ArcGIS geodatabases.

You’ll also learn some basic Python scripts to help you automate your workflow. If you’ve never used Python then these exercises may be a tad over your head. But these exercises teach you how to programmatically access content from geodatabases, a must-have skillset when building custom applications.

All in all this is one very handy book to have nearby. It offers a nice intro to geodatabases with a heavy focus on the technical side of data storage & manipulation.

I’d recommend this to someone who knows a bit of Python and wants to learn more about geodatabase storage techniques.


Mastering ArcGIS

This beastly 600+ page user’s guide to ArcGIS is currently in its 7th edition. Mastering ArcGIS is a college-level textbook covering the fundamentals of ArcGIS while pushing you further into more advanced techniques.

Each lesson holds your hand walking you through a step-by-step approach to the library. You’ll learn real practical techniques for building programs on top of ArcGIS and the author holds your hand every step of the way.

Despite the book’s title this really is a nice beginner’s guide, although it is rather pricey compared to other alternatives. But each chapter goes into great detail explaining the GIS system and ArcGIS in plain English.

Building with GIS is often considered very confusing so there’s a lot of reasons to get lost, frustrated, and ultimately give up.

But this book holds your hand guiding you every step of the way with careful instruction. It’s a handy reference guide for common API calls and features that you can use in the ArcGIS environment.


Building Web Applications with ArcGIS

While this is a very short book it’s also a brilliant introduction to ArcGIS on the web. If you have even rudimentary web development skills you can pick this up without any prior knowledge of GIS.

Building Web Applications with ArcGIS teaches you how to create a web-based map application on top of the ArcGIS core. Everything runs on JavaScript and you’ll connect into the API for every lesson.

The concepts are very basic so this is perfect for a complete beginner who wants to build stuff on the web using ArcGIS. I do wish the book was longer, but I also think the content is written well enough to make sense and justify the length.

This book was also written by GIS veteran Hussein Nasser who’s an award-winning GIS architect & developer with over a decade’s worth of experience. He knows how to build and how to teach this stuff so he’s definitely an author you can trust.

But anyone looking for a fairly detailed intro to ArcGIS on the web may be disappointed by this book’s brevity. It’s a cozy intro for beginners but if you need something more complex you might prefer the next book in this list.


ArcGIS Web Development

The writing style in this book is extraordinary and through practical exercises you’ll learn top-shelf ArcGIS programming.

ArcGIS Web Development is one of the best books for programmers who want to create geolocation apps on the web. Difficulty seems to jump quickly from the first chapter into the rest of the book. I would highly recommend getting some ArcGIS experience before diving into this.

The author teaches JavaScript development over the ArcGIS API so you’ll learn how to build dynamic interfaces with geolocation features. Each chapter delves a bit deeper into the API moving from a simple introduction to practical lessons for spatial data processing on the web.

If you’re a web developer with any interest in building maps or processing geospatial data then this book is the perfect read. It focuses solely on web development for ArcGIS and you’ll learn through real-world projects every step of the way.

Once you understand the basics of ArcGIS it gets a lot easier delving into more complex topics. This list has more than enough to get you started whether you’re a Python programmer or a JS developer or even a geospatial data analyst(paid or otherwise).

If you’re a newbie looking to get started I recommend either Getting to Know ArcGIS or ArcGIS By Example. Both are very novice-friendly and they both teach with practice exercises that help you retain the info a lot easier.

But if you see any other ArcGIS books that also look intriguing be sure to check them out too!

Author: Alex Turner

Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.