Author: Ben Henick
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2010
Aimed at: Web stylists
Pros: Takes HTML and CSS seriously
Cons: Convoluted writing style
Reviewed by: David Conrad
I started off liking this book but it very quickly wore off. Initially it seems to be a very high-brow look at some low-brow topics, HTML and CSS. At first the content is difficult to read but you put up with it because it isn't often that an author takes HTML and CSS seriously.
Later on as the information density drops it just becomes irritating and it obscures the point. It is difficult to find a good example because the effect is cumulative but...
- Links are categorically interactive; by activating a link, the user causes something new to happen. For this reason alone, links should always be easy to distinguish from surrounding content.
- The design cues styled into links can imply relationships to particular visitor objectives.
- The user agent styles provided for links are based on antiquated environmental assumptions that rarely apply on contemporary sites.
Yes is makes sense if you read it carefully and can can work out what "categorically interactive" means but what it is saying is basically simple, obvious, trivial even. It could be said in half the number of works and more directly.
Chapter 1 is a look at the way the web is different from other media and it discusses the non-linear nature of the web. Chatper 2 is more down to earth wil a look at HTML syntax and the flavours of HTML in use. Much of this is fairly practical but the author manages to keep an almost academic tone and view point. He really seems to believe that HTML is a worthy of theoretical study. Chapter 3 moves on to CSS and a this point you are struggling to see what the good parts are. Then we have standards, effective style and structure and solving the puzzle of CSS layout. This is point at which the book more or less gives up trying to be a guide to the "good parts" and just gives you lots of advice and discussion of how to do things.
Chapter 7 is about working with lists, 8 is a mixed bag of things - Headings, Hyperlinks, Inline-Elements and Quotations. Chapter 9 is on colors and backgrounds and goes over color models and how to set a background. Chapter 10 is on tables, 11 on Images and Multimedia and chapter 12 goes over web typography and everything to do with fonts from the Gutenberg press to Unicode. Chapter 13 jumps to a bigger topic - forms and Chapter 14 brings the book to a close with a look at the bad parts of HTML and CSS.
There is some coverage of HTML5 but it really isn't necessary nor core to the book. What is core to the book is a very academic and wordy style that eventually wears the reader out. Of course a great deal of the book emphasises the idea that HTML is for semantics and CSS is for layout but this simple idea is overdone. Also for a book on HTML/CSS there isn't that much code in it. It goes on for pages talking around the ideas and eventually gives and example - this is not a particularly practical book.
Then there is the issue of script, the third component of every modern web page. This book virtually ignores programming as if static HTML and CSS were all there was. If the book had any effect on my own thinking it was to finally crystallize the idea that we are in danger of making too much of HTML and CSS - how much deification does a markup language require? This particular book attempts to raise markup to into something of a cross between an art and a philosophy - it really isn't either it's just boring old markup and really not worth this much attention. I can imagine a "good parts" book on HTML and CSS but it would be very short and simply point out the clever bits that most overlook - like the DOM.
If you want a waffley book written in a strange style that attempts to make HTML and CSS sound interesting and important this is probably it - but it will lead you in the wrong direction.