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Book Review – CSS: The Missing Manual by David Sawyer McFarland

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Since it was introduced in 1996, CSS has been quietly revolutionizing the layout and design of web pages throughout the Internet. It is hard to believe that after ten years, there are still those who use hard code styles in their HTML. CSS: The Missing Manual is now paving the way for those who want to learn how to use CSS.

CSS stands for "cascading style sheets". At its most basic, a cascading style sheet is a file that contains rules on how a web page is formatted and displayed to the user. CSS is a language that works within HTML to consolidate all of these rules into one area. If you want to change your text font from Tahoma 12point to Time New Roman 10point, for example, you can change it in one spot and all of your web pages will be changed if you have put all your formatting commands into a CSS file.

While CSS: The Missing Manual is a great place for a beginner to learn how to work with style sheets and learn the correct method of implementing them, it is by no means just a beginner’s book. The author, as well as covering the basics, leads the user into advanced topics and interesting controversies within the CSS world.

CSS: The Missing Manual is laid out in five sections. Section one, "CSS Basics", deals with how to create style sheets. It also provides an overview of the process for laying out HTML/XHTML to use style sheets.

The second section, "Applied CSS", introduces you to real web design. Here you learn about important CSS properties and how to use them to create navigation tools. You also find out how to enhance the look of your web pages for printing, and how to design tables and forms.

Part three, "Page Layout", deals with the placement of elements on a page. Here you learn how to create common designs. The author also deals with topics such as floats and positioning, as well as adding sidebars.

Part four is called "Advanced CSS." This section covers general techniques for using CSS more effectively. Finally, the appendix gives the reader extra resources. The CSS property reference provides summaries so you can quickly learn about each property. Other resources cover tools and resources, as well as books and web sites.

Generally, this series of books is extraordinary in the clarity of its languages and ideas. Likewise, it's simply the quality of presentation that makes this book so usable.

For example, in section two ("Applied CSS"), the author describes the “box model”. While I understand the concept of this model, I don’t think that I could have described it in the simple, no-nonsense way McFarland does. But the idea that a tag is simply a box with something inside it makes so much sense. He explains the importance to the presentation of your content of how these boxes interact to present the margins, text and padding.

With so many books on CSS, why would you want this one? Because it truly teaches the correct method of working with style sheets. It can take you from the very basic to the very sophisticated in a reasonably short time. From his methodology it seems that David McFarland, a developer by trade, is a teacher by vocation. That certainly comes across in his style and writing. If you were to buy only one book on CSS, CSS: The Missing Manual should be it.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • http://scrinanbbles.blogspot.com Nancy

    That was a great review. Sure sounds like I could use this book.

  • http://photographytoday.com/ T. Michael Testi

    Thanks Nancy for the kind words. I have used CSS my self for a while, but found this book to be the best one I have found on the subject.