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Book Review: HTML & CSS: The Good Parts by Ben Henick

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HTML and CSS are technologies that have been around for over a decade and continue to be the work horses of Web design. Through all the years' changes have been made and improvements have been addressed, but, still, some things have not always worked out for the best.

The goal of HTML & CSS: The Good Parts is to focus on those things within the realm of these two technologies that work really well — and avoid those things that tend to be problematic. By focusing in on just the best practices, you will be able to build more effective sites and maintain them more efficiently. This book is 352 pages and divided into 14 chapters.

Chapter One, "Hypertext at the Core," shows that a properly built website is more than the sum of its parts. By taking advantage of hypertext media, you can structure your site in ways that are meaningful and useful to your visitors. Chapter Two, "Working with HTML Markup," offers a lot of features beyond links, and this chapter will explain what is available for use as well as how to structure your site.

Chapter Three, "CSS Overview," explains what CSS is as well as lays a foundation for creating successful websites. You will look at targeting rules, selectors, rule conflicts, priority and precedence, and much more. Chapter Four, "Developing a Relationship with Standards," describes how the web as practiced is not always the web as specified. Here you will see why ignoring standards to get the browser to work right will really end up being more work than is needed.

Chapter Five's subjects, "Effective Style and Structure," are two separate trains that have to be ridden using parallel tracks. This balance takes practice, and the tools that make it easier are the habits that are learned in this chapter. Chapter Six, "Solving the Puzzle of CSS Layout," means that you must put the pieces exactly where you want them, and CSS offers three tools for this — positioning, float, and width/margin. It is here that you will learn the techniques to master them.

Chapter Seven, "Working with Lists," is a necessary one because lists are everywhere. Since lists are easy to find in markup, you will learn how to use the three HTML lists — ordered, unordered, and definitions. Chapter Eight, "Headings, Hyperlinks, Inline Elements, and Quotations," shows that styling begins with layout, but it ends with accents. Since HTML and CSS offer no shortage of accents, you will see how to work with these various items.

Chapter Nine's subjects, "Colors and Backgrounds," are sometimes taken for granted, but as an experienced developer you need to know how to relate colors to their backgrounds. Here you will work with various color models and backgrounds to get the right look. Chapter 10, "(Data) Tables," is all about tables and what kind of problems that can arise from their use as well as how to work with them in a more efficient manner.

Chapter 11, "Images and Multimedia," examines the process of working with both of these items from preparation, through implementation and how to make most efficient use of them within your sites. Chapter 12, "Web Typography," is all about font and text properties, how big of a return they provide, and how best to implement them on your site

Chapter 13, "Clean and Accessible Forms," looks at the user experience and how best to build effective forms. Here you will learn how to organize your site to best enhance the user experience. Chapter 14, "The Bad Parts," finishes up by taking a look at the flaws, technical limitations, and vulnerabilities of the Web. Here you see some of the things that you need to be aware of when developing for the internet.

HTML & CSS: The Good Parts is a very good practical use book. It is not a comprehensive book about either HTML or CSS, but rather a book of best practices. You should have a feel for both of these topics to make the best use of this book, but with the basic fundamentals, the reading is easy enough to understand.

HTML & CSS: The Good Parts is all about avoiding the traps that one encounters when designing websites. Using this book early on in one's career can really save yourself a lot of frustration, and so I feel it should be on everyone's shelf who works regularly with HTML and CSS.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • Sheesh T. I could really use this book!
    I started making breast cancer support templates a few years back. Going Pink for October. Breast cancer awareness month etc.
    But just recently I got an email from someone that her friend was panicked trying to use one. I checked. Sure enough the old HTML was making everything wonky. I only managed to half fix this one. It’s still reading “error on page” in the task bar–should read “Houston we have a problem” lol

    The main problem is that they’ve changed the html standards and now some of my code is out-dated. I really just need a book like this to define, as you said, the best practices. I just don’t have time to go in every year or so and learn what’s changed and fix all of the templates.

    I think that’s one thing most web designers in the past didn’t really consider, that you need a stable structure that will withstand changes in browsers, html etc.

    Btw, Does this book cover building for Mozilla and IE?
    I started working on this musician’s template and it is just not compatible with Mozilla at all. Open it in both browsers and see what I mean. Utter fail!

    The other thing most web designers in the past didn’t have to worry about was the effect your code has on your ranking. Using poor code can get you removed from indexing in search engines or drop your ranking severely now.

    It really is important to have books like this one, and not just for new-comers– a good code book is just as important to experienced designers. Who wants their beautiful designs and hard work to become obsolete in 6 months?

    I need to start working on some new templates this year. I now have to either completely chuck these and start anew, or fix them all before I can move forward–a daunting task.

    Either way I could use this book as a much needed brush up on the basics and also learn the new standards so I don’t make the same mistakes again.

    Any other useful guides you can think of would be appreciated as well. The clock is ticking lol