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Keywords: Excel, data analysis, spreadsheets
Title: Microsoft Excel 2010: Data Analysis and Business Modeling
Author: Wayne L. Winston
Publisher: Microsoft Press
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Verdict: Some great core content let down by poor layout and organisation
This is one of those books that's really hard to review. Not because it weighs in at a hefty 700 pages, which it does. Nor is it because there's a lack of technical excellence on display - there clearly is lots of it on display. It's because the high technical standard is not matched by the format of the book. So, on the one hand you want to score the book highly based on the underlying content, but on the other hand you are also more than aware of how the layout and navigation of the book don't help the reader easily get to that great content.
First, let's focus on the down-sides. The layout is poor - the screenshots are tiny, there's a lack of sign-posting and the book assumes that you've downloaded all the example workbooks and can follow along. The basic structure of the book is to ask a set of questions - how do I do this, how do I do that - and then to work through to the answers via a set of examples, all of which involve looking at the downloaded workbooks. This sort of works if you've got the workbooks on your machine, but for those of us who like to read on the train or in the bath it's not so straightforward.
The chapters are geared around specific topics - how to use the INDIRECT function, or how to do correlations, moving averages and so on. This sort of works, but there's not always a direct correlation with the questions being asked in the text. It also means the book switches from Excel-based topics - like spreadsheet functions, pivots or the Solver - to business and data analysis topics - like moving averages, time series analysis and so on. There's no faulting the range of topics, but some better organisation would have been useful.
It should also be noted that the book doesn't cover programming with VBA, it's purely about how to use the built-in functions and standard add-ins to get the most out of Excel in analysing data.
So, that's all of the gripes out of the way. Now for the up-sides. The author clearly knows his way around Excel and the data analysis business. The level of expertise is high, and the sample workbooks contain some really good examples of how to really make Excel worth the software licence. Again and again you'll find things that you thought you knew but realise you hadn't quite got hold of. The coverage of time series analysis and how to do with seasonality, for example, is way ahead of what most Excel books cover.
It's not the sort of book that you read cover to cover, but it's really great for dipping into and grabbing some new bit of knowledge.
With some better organisation and some better layout, this could be a better book than it is, as it is you have to work hard to get the most out of it. Which is a shame, because even the most experienced Excel user is going to learn things here.