Author: Bill Jelen
Publisher: Que, 2010
Aimed at: Excel users with some experience already
Pros: Comprehensive and insightful
Cons: Not the only book you'll need if you want to cover every aspect of Excel 2010
Reviewed by: Janet Swift
This book is authored by Bill Jelen who styles himself Mr Excel and has written several books on Excel 2010 and earlier versions.
At 1152 pages this one is the largest and most comprehensive and is therefore suitable for relative newcomers to Excel as well as to upgraders. It isn't for complete beginners in that it doesn't ask basic questions such as "why use a spreadsheet" nor does it include a simple first worksheet. So take heed of the headline on the back cover:
Beyond the Basics... Beneath the Surface.... In Depth
Part 1 covers Changes in the User Interface and its structure will be most easily understood by readers who have kept up with the evolution of Excel over its many generations. Chapter 1 has the title "The File Menu becomes the Backstage View" and refer to the one immediately noticeable change to anyone who is already used to the Ribbon interface - the big change introduced in Excel 2007 that comes as a culture shock to upgraders from Excel 2003 or earlier versions and is covered in Chapter 2 and again in Chapter 4 devoted to customising it.
Chapter 3, "Using Other Excel Interface Improvements is aimed primarily at upgraders who skipped over Excel 2007 - although the Paste Preview facility it discusses is new in 2010. Another newly expanded feature is the topic of Chapter 5 Keyboard Shortcuts. It may come as a surprise that it is only now that every Excel command can be performed from the keyboard. Developers will appreciate that this is useful for automating spreadsheet tasks with keystroke macros.The chapter also covers using Excel 2003 keyboard accelerators. If you preferred using the keyboard to the mouse over several generations of Excel it also explains why you might be experiencing problems. Two short chapters on the options dialog and on navigating the grid and file formats round out this initial section of the book which occupies just 10% of the total number of pages.
Over 500 pages are devoted to Part 2, Calculating with Excel, making it the longest section. It is also well organised in that it starts with a chapter on Understanding Formulas. This is targeted at new users of Excel but is worth a skim read for almost everyone. In making just this point at the beginning of the chapter, Jelen tells readers not to miss the section "Double-Click the Fill Handle to Copy a Formula". I agree entirely that this hint is well worth knowing about. It is however a real shame that it is confusing due to a mix-up about which column the formula is in.
The next two chapters, 9 - Controlling Formulas and 10 - Working with Functions, also cover basic principles and, in the case of Chapter 10, cover changes introduced in Excel 2010. The following five chapters are devoted to specific functions and each starts with an alphabetical lists of the functions included which might have been better relegated to an appendix.
In other respects this is a very satisfactory section. It starts with a chapter devoted to "Everyday Functions" with SUM as the first to be discussed. There are plenty of examples, most of which have a clear annotated screendump as illustration. There's also some interesting discussions - for example about dates and times with good use made of caution and tip boxouts.
If you have only ever used the most common functions you will find uses for you might never have considered - for example "Using SIN to find the height of a kite in a tree". Also in this chapter (15 Using Trig, Matrix and Engineering Functions) there's an Excel in Practice boxout on Measuring the distance across a canyon.
Part 2 continues with more general topics. Chapter 16 is on Connecting Worksheets, Workbooks and External Data; Chapter 17 is about Super Formulas, that is unorthodox formulas that prove to be very useful and Chapter 18 covers the use of range names. The concluding chapter in this section is on Excel Tables - a feature introduced in Excel 2007 which gives extra facilities for analysing two-dimensional tables of data and is well worth knowing about.
Business Intelligence is the topic of Part 3 and it starts with Chapter 20 Sorting Data - an aspect where Excel 2010 offers much more powerful capabilities than legacy versions. This is followed by a chapter on filtering data and removing duplicates and includes the Advanced Filter command even though Excel's Autofilltering has been improved to the point where you may never need it. However Jelen points out that it is remarkably powerful and does much more than filtering.
Using Automatic Subtotals is the topic of Chapter 22 and we reach Pivot Tables in Chapters 23 and 24 which looks at filtering a pivot table including the new viusal filters called slicers.Chapter 25 is devoted to the new PowerPivot add-on to Excel but as Bill Jelen has written a whole book on the topic this 38-page coverage is probably too brief and introduction.Chapter 26, Using What-If, Scenario Manager, Goal Seek and Solver returns us to facilities that have been important over many generations of spreadsheets - but if you've not come across the ideas before this chapter doesn't introduce the basic idea well enough - that's the problem when you take the power of a spreadsheet for granted. The same criticism can be made of Chapter 27 n VBA macros - it omits to tells us why we might want to use a macro - which will be obvious to anyone who has written a macro but perhaps not to some Excel users who have never ventured beyond the basics before.
Contrast Part 4 - the first heading in Chapter 30 Formatting Worksheets is "Why Format Worksheets?" with a good introductory discussion. This part covers Visual Presentation of Data with chapters on Charts, Sparklines, SmartArt and pictures.
The final three chapters of the book form a short final Part 5 - Sharing. They are on Printing, the Excel Web App and Using the Easy -XL Program a utility which adds 50 commands to the Excel 2010 ribbon and is intended to make complex data analysis tasks easier. If you've never heard of it before it is because it is one developed and sold by MrExcel.com. As a reader of the book you have access to a 90-day licence to try it out and 18 or so pages devoted to promoting it - although if you have read the entire book you probably are sufficiently expert not to need its help!
This is a useful addition to the bookshelf of any keen Excel user - especially those who have been using a legacy version and need to update their skills.