Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review

Beginning CSS Web Development From Novice to Professional
by Simon Collison
Non-fiction, 413 pgs., $34.99 USD, Copyright 2006 by Simon Collison
ISBN-13 (pbk):978-1-59059-689-0
ISBN-10 (pbk):1-59059-689-7
Published by Apress; 2560 Ninth Street, Suite 219, Berkeley, CA 94710
Key words: Cascading Style Sheets, CSS, Extended Hypertext Markup Language, XHTML, Web Design, Dry British Humor, Drinking

Beginning CSS Web Development
Well, I've finished it. No, not the bottle you twit – the book. I am now so full of CSS I can hardly stand myself. I can't honestly say that I read all four hundred and thirteen pages; the index is rather dry, even for a Brit. Still, I managed to begin on page one and plowed right on through to page 369. Along the way I learned considerably more about XHTML and web design than I thought I would. Getting right to the point, this is an excellent work. I would enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who knows little to nothing about CSS and wants to learn.

Part 1 (of two parts) deals with the core concepts of CSS, including the purpose of CSS, which is very rarely explained by similar works but which is necessary if the poor student is ever going to be successful. The examples are practical and not overly complex. In particular when the author states that there are several ways of accomplishing something he proceeds to give an explanation of each along with an example, then will follow up by citing the advantages and disadvantages of each method. By the end of Part 1 the student will be able to construct a fairly nice web site. I did, by the way, construct a web site using the illustrious Mr. Collison's methods and when my layout failed in a rather spectacular fashion I was able to fix the problem by changing three lines in my CSS file. I would recommend that everyone reading this book construct a site of a dozen pages or so before continuing into Part 2 with the caveat that you'll end up changing parts of your work once you complete the final section, which deals with common web layouts in use today and is written in a logical manner.

As I may have mentioned in my smooth segue between paragraphs, Part 2 deals with common web layouts and allows the student to come to grips with the strengths and foibles of each along with browser inconsistencies. Everything learned in Part 1 is used and expanded upon and by the end of the book the student will be able to construct a very nice web site that is easy to maintain and modify as needed. The final chapter takes the student through the design process from beginning to end and includes problem solving and tweaking the design to produce a more aesthetically pleasing web site. The book also includes a very nice CSS reference in the appendix which I discovered later on. I should have looked for it earlier, as I would have saved myself some time and energy by not having to thumb through a previous chapter, searching for a CSS command.

If you read this book you'll quickly discover that the author does not waste space with pointless anecdotes, inside jokes or Pecksniffish rhetoric concerning their own achievements and unsupported preferences. Ergo, do not skip any paragraphs while you are reading. The author's style is succinct without being dry, which I find refreshing. Another thing I admire is that the author uses best practices throughout the book. I can't count the number of times I've read a coding example that contains a standard disclaimer stating that the example is for demonstration purposes and does not necessarily follow industry standard best practices. If best practices are important, why not write your examples to conform? Simon Collison does, explains why things are written the way they are, and follows his own good advice throughout. Finally, the author is keenly aware of the scope of his book. Beyond that scope he refuses to go, and with very good reason. Clearly the man thought this project out before he began writing and confines his efforts to this ambit. One welcome result of this planning is the elimination of the phrase “more on that later” from the entire text. This is a huge relief. I wish I had a nickel for each instance of an author beginning to explain some interesting point or other, only to have the explanation cut short with the non-committal cliché, “more on that later”.

If you buy this book with the idea of learning CSS, it will likely be the smartest $34.99 plus tax, shipping and handling you'll spend this year. The only commonition I provide is that the author is British with the typically dry, understated British diction. When Simon advises you get a cup of tea before beginning the next chapter, do as you like, but I recommend you plan for two fingers of rye that evening.


Stephanie Lorée said...

I've got a good handle on CSS, HTML, etc. Does this book have information for the more advanced user? Or is it geared towards bringing a beginner up to speed?

Thanks for the review!

flask said...

thanks for this. just yesterday i was in a bookstore trying to decide on a book on css/html that's suitable for the serious beginner.

Mad Jack said...

Mesmerix: I would say that it is written primarily for someone who knows little to nothing about CSS. That said, the examples the author provides coupled with his explanation and adherence to best practices would make this valuable to almost anyone.

Flask: You're very welcome.