Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, December 04, 2002
# 9:34:00 AM:

Sucky books

Permalinks to this entry: individual page or in monthly context. For more material from my journal, visit my home page or the archive.

To help me convert this site from plain old HTML Web page code to spiffy, up-to-date XHTML code (something that mostly involved adding slashes and quote marks in the appropriate places, to be honest), I bought a book from the remainder bin at my local supermarket. I was a bit surprised to find it there, since it was only a year old and seemed to cover material that remains relevant -- usually the bin books cover old versions of topics, or are otherwise out of date.

I discovered why soon after, and was glad I paid about a third of the cover price. While Que Special Edition: Using XHTML by Molly E. Holzschlag contains almost everything I wanted to know about XHTML at this point (i.e. how to add the slashes and quotes in the right places), it's nearly 1000 pages, or at least 700 pages too long.

The book:

  • is poorly organized.
  • contains numerous typos and other mistakes (in both body text and, more unforgivably, in code examples).
  • includes several entire chapters that actively flout the very standards XHTML is supposed to enforce.
  • features randomly-interspersed chapters from other authors that are poorly integrated with Holzschlag's main text (although they are generally better written than her material).
  • often mentions an accompanying CD-ROM that isn't included with the Special Edition, since that's for more-special Premium Editions.
  • could easily have been edited down by at least 30% by simply trimming Holzschlag's bloated sentence constructions and repetitive code examples.

Ms. Holzschlag knows what she's talking about, for the most part. The problem is the way she talks about it. To be fair, publishing pressures meant that this new book is really a poorly-updated revision of her HTML 4 book, which itself probably comprises cobbled-together sections of her previous work.

Tom and Dori of Backup Brain (whom my wife and I met a few months ago) write better books, and make a living at it, but they also point to a good article describing why computer books mostly suck. My only advice is to keep an eye out for books from O'Reilly, Peachpit, and New Riders, which I've found are usually much better than average, and sometimes truly excellent.

In a way, though, the existence of Using XHTML is encouraging -- I could quite possibly have written a more useful book on the topic myself, and could certainly have helped edit the existing one into a much better (and shorter!) document. Pity that computer books are so often sold by bulk, not quality.


Journal Archive »

Template BBEdited on 29-Apr-2010

Site problems? Gripes? Angst? - e-mail
Site contents © 1997–2007 by Derek K. Miller

You may use content from this site non-commercially if you give me credit, under the terms of my Creative Commons license.

eXTReMe Tracker