CSS books

Reviewed by Scott DeLoach
Published in Technical Communication, May 2005

ISBN: 0596005253 ISBN: 0130092789 ISBN: 0596007779 ISBN: 0735714258

It would be hard-and certainly not a recommended approach-to learn about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) without reading a book or article written by Eric Meyer. Meyer has been writing about CSS for the last ten years. His articles and books are always well researched and well written, and hes built a well deserved reputation as one of the foremost CSS experts.

Three of the four books in this review were written by Eric Meyer. The fourth, Core CSS, is by Keith Shengili-Roberts. While there is some overlap between Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide and Core CSS, these four books cover a very diverse range of reader needs. However, none of the books mentioned in this review is written for novice users. If you are seeking a from the beginning introduction to CSS, consider Jason Teagues DHTML and CSS for the World Wide Web: Visual QuickStart Guide. If you need in-depth examples (More Eric Meyer on CSS), a guide to the W3Cs CSS recommendation (Core CSS), detailed information on CSS properties and concepts (Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide), or a quick reference (CSS Pocket Reference), these books are excellent resources.

In 2002, New Riders released Eric Meyer on CSS. Each chapter in the book was a CSS-based project, and readers were encouraged to complete each project as they learned about CSS. The book was very well received (including a positive review in the February 2003 issue of Technical Communication). As a result, Meyer has written More Eric Meyer on CSS. This new book follows the same approach with ten new projects that become progressively more complex. The examples are excellent, and they represent common tasks that readers may want to accomplish. Meyer also does a great job of explaining why he makes certain decisions so that readers can grasp the deeper concepts he is trying to teach. This project-based book is excellent for intermediate users, and it makes a great introduction to a more advanced reference book.

Core CSS is a good guide to the W3Cs CSS1 and CSS2 recommendations. It begins with a 110-page introduction to CSS that offers a history of CSS and explanations of important concepts such as inheritance and measurement units. The rest of the books 700 pages focus on CSS properties. The extensive code and graphical examples greatly increase the page count, but I find them essential to understanding how different properties work. Core CSSalso provides some browser compatibility information, but the books goal is to describe the CSS recommendations rather than how they are supported by different browsers.

The first edition of Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide became an invaluable resource when it was published in 2000. The new edition exchanges the browser compatibility information found in the first edition for detailed coverage of CSS2. As Meyer explains in his introduction, browser compatibility information needs to be constantly updated and therefore is better suited to the Web. That decision makes sense for new browsers, but itd be nice if some of the basic compatibility information had remained. For example, what are my options if my site must work in Internet Explorer 4? Id rather know I cant use a property than spend 5 minutes reading about a feature I cant use. That small criticism aside, the book is well organized. Its not a typical reference book, like Core CSS. Instead, it focuses on key concepts, like padding, and integrates the properties into the discussion. To become a CSS expert, you must understand these concepts and how they interact with each other. This new edition will be considered a great reference for many years because Meyer does an excellent job of explaining these concepts.

The CSS Pocket Reference is a thin book that provides a concise summary of each CSS property. CSS experts will probably use this book every day to look up quick information such as a value for a particular property. Its very focusedXit lack in-depth descriptions, browser compatibility information, and visual examples. However, thats what keeps it so small and makes it so easy to use. This book, combined with a few Web sites such as cssvault.com, www.meyerweb.com, and the W3Cs CSS recommendation and test suite pages, should form a complete reference for an expert CSS developer.

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