For your own purposes, you might not need to read this book in order, cover to cover. The following summary should help you work out which parts of the book you can skip or skim, which parts you can reserve for occasional reference, and which parts you should read thoroughly, in which order:
Provides an overview of the motivation for SQL tuning and the approach this book takes to the problem, as well as some side benefits that come with following that approach. This chapter is short and easy, and I recommend you read it first.
Describes how databases access individual tables with full table scans and indexed reads, how databases join tables, and the tradeoffs between these alternatives. If you already know the basics of how databases execute queries, you might be able to skip or skim this chapter.
Covers how to read and interpret an execution plan on Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and DB2. If you have done any SQL tuning at all, you likely already know this for whatever database concerns you. Chapter 3 also separates the coverage of each database and even repeats material that applies to more than one database, so you need to read only the section or sections that matter to you.
Covers how to control execution plans on Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and DB2. This discussion includes some generic techniques that provide some control of execution plans on any relational database. If you have done significant SQL tuning, you might already know how to control execution plans for whatever database concerns you. Like Chapter 3, Chapter 4 also separates the coverage of each database and even repeats material that applies to more than one database, so you need to read only the section or sections that matter to you.
Covers the foundation for the rest of the book, which won't even make sense unless you read this chapter first. This chapter introduces a shorthand, pictorial language that greatly clarifies the core of a SQL tuning problem. Chapter 5 lays a foundation that makes the rest of the book far clearer and more concise than it could be without this pictorial language. Read the chapter and learn the pictorial language well before you read the rest of the book. (The language takes some patience to learn, but it is worth it!)
Explains how to use the query diagrams you learned to make in Chapter 5 to tune 2-way, 5-way, even 115-way joins rapidly, without trial and error. This is the big payoff, so don't stop before you understand this material.
Shows you how to tune complex queries such as queries containing subqueries that do not fit the standard, simple, n-way-join template. As a bonus, this chapter will also describe how to diagnose and repair logic problems with the SQL (as opposed to performance problems) that become obvious once you know how to build and interpret the query diagrams.
Justifies the rules of thumb I discuss in Chapter 5-Chapter 7. If you don't quite trust me, or if you just think you would apply this book's method better if you had an understanding of why the method works, this chapter should help. You might even want to read this chapter early if you are losing patience with rote application of mysterious rules earlier in the book.
Covers advanced material you might refer to only as problems arise, if you would rather not read so much cover-to-cover. However, I recommend at least skimming this chapter to learn what is there, so you can recognize the problems when you see them.
Explains how to cope with even "impossible" problems, problems with no fast execution plan capable of delivering the rows required by the original SQL. This material is highly recommended, but I leave it for last because until you know how to get the best execution plan, you cannot recognize which (surprisingly few) problems require these outside-the-box solutions.
Provides solutions to the exercises at the ends of Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and Chapter 7.
Follows the solution of a SQL tuning problem through the whole diagramming method, from start to finish, on Oracle, DB2, and SQL Server. If you like to work from complete, end-to-end examples, this appendix is for you.
Defines key terms and phrases used in the book.