Simon P. Chappell writes "One of the perks of regular book reviewing is that, periodically, you'll check your mail box and discover a book waiting for you. A serendipitous surprise! I don't review all such books that I receive, but this one, Spring Into HTML and CSS by Molly E. Holzschlag, stood out from the crowd and I felt that I should share my thoughts on it with you." Read on for Chappell's brief review.
Who's it for?
This seems a very clearly targeted book. It's directed towards professionals that need to work with websites, but do not necessarily have a software development background.The Good Stuff
The approach of the book reflects the targeted audience very well. The book starts by introducing a basic HTML page and then building upon it by showing how to add text and graphic content. The next couple of chapters then show a few more advanced subjects like forms and tables. The second half of the book then moves into explaining CSS, starting with some of the basic ground rules and then moving into applying colours, styles and borders to the HTML document. The last chapter is a cookbook of classic layouts, explained clearly and with code.
Even though I'm not a typical member of the intended audience, I found the organisation of the book very well thought-out and with a good sense of flow. Each chapter builds on the preceding one, with a small set of examples that are built up through the course of the book. Each chapter is broken into one or two page "chunks," as the book itself describes them. These chunks are small discrete explanations of aspects that the chapter covers. For example, in the chapter on images, the chunks cover topics like adding alternative text to an image, specifying its height and width and using an image in a hyperlink.
For me, the combination of the chunk organisation and Molly's writing makes the book. The chunked approach fits the needs of both learning a new subject without being overwhelmed and those that want more of a reference capability. This book is not written to be a reference work, but with everything being so well partitioned, it comes close enough to meet my need for a good reference work as well. Some authors tell you about their subject, but Molly really does seem to explain it to you. A subtle difference, but one that gives this book the edge.
As a book that aims to be practical, the examples were very well chosen. There are plenty of pieces of example markup and images of the resulting rendering. The markup is nicely laid out and the images are large enough to show the effect, but not so large as to interrupt the flow of the explanation. The other nice thing about the examples, especially in the CSS section of the book, is that the examples are consistent. The same portion of text, from The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe, is used throughout. I found that this helped clearly show the difference between the effects being taught. The text stayed the same, only the layout changed with the new style being shown. Very effective.
My first inclination when I saw that the book was part of a new series called "Spring into ..." was to groan and wonder when they were planning to fire the marketing non-genius that dreamt up such a bad title! Thankfully the contents more than make up for the corny name. The only other thing that bugged me was the inclusion of two appendixes with HTML and CSS reference information in them. The references are annotated very well with practical considerations, so I'm only going to knock off half a point from what would otherwise have been a perfect ten.
You can purchase Spring into HTML and CSS from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.