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Keywords: Web development, page design, XHTML
Title: Spring Into HTML and CSS
Author: Molly Holzschlag
Publisher: Addison Wesley
Verdict: It's easy to read, clearly designed and packed full of useful material
'Spring Into HTML and CSS' promises a fast introduction to the joys of web authoring with standards-compliant XHTML and CSS. Note that the book is about coding rather than about the principles of graphic design or about using a particular set of web authoring and development tools. To this end the book pretty much sticks to using a text editor to manually craft pages from start to finish. This is all to the good, not only does it avoid the problem of reliance on a subset of tools that not all readers will have access to, it also ensures that the content is focused on the core subjects of XHTML and CSS.
Starting with the basic page structure of doctype, head and body, the book scores well in sticking to current web standards. For example the HTML that the book uses is XHTML rather that HTML 4.0 or 3.2. For anyone starting out from scratch this makes more sense than adopting an older HTML standard, and it also means that readers looking for a quick refresher can pick up XHTML very quickly.
As with the other books in the 'Spring Into…' series, this one is written in a style based around chunks of information. Each chunk covers one key point and is covered in one or two pages. The danger of this is that it might lead to unnecessary or dangerous simplification, but in this case that doesn't happen. Molly Holzschlag writes in a very clear, direct and unpatronising way. She has the knack of getting information across to her readers, and she's organised the material in a way that flows naturally from section to section.
Complex topics, such as font sizing, the use of tables, browser compatibility problems and so on are not ignored or brushed away. At times the tone is apologetic as the book detours to discuss some underlying principle but really these principles are essential to an understanding of the subject and they are well-handled.
Aside from the writing style the book is commendable in sticking to the key idea of cleanly separating the structural mark-up of a page (using XHTML) with the presentation and formatting (using CSS). The latter topics covered in the text extends beyond the basics and looks at what are often considered more advanced topics such as z-Index. The choices between using tables or CSS for page structuring are also clearly explained, leaving the reader with an understanding of the issues and the information needed to make an informed decision about which to choose.
Finally, the book closes with two useful appendices, annotated references for XHTML 1.1 and CSS 2.1, ensuring that the book can serve as a reference as well as a useful set of tutorials.
For the reader interested in getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of web authoring this book makes an ideal introduction. It's easy to read, clearly designed and packed full of useful material. Recommended.