Build your own website the right way using HTML & CSS
I wrote this review with the aim of helping prospective buyers decide if this book is right for them. Sometimes the bewildering array of books on offer for a typical topic makes the decision a difficult one, and can lead to a loss of confidence in what is the right buy. Hopefully this guide will help anyone needing answers about this particular book.
The premise of the book should be immediately clear on reading the title; it’s for beginners and also for beginners with ‘the right’ kind HTML and CSS. To explain what I’m getting at I thought I’d write a few hypothetical questions that buyers might ask themselves before deciding whether or not to purchase.
"I used tables up until now and I really want to get started with CSS, is this the book for me?"
Let's break this up into a few parts to answer:
Tables: No doubt if you've used tables to build websites then you know a fair bit of HTML. If you're serious about learning CSS then you‘ll need to be prepared to rework your HTML knowledge into standards compliant code. It’s important to do this because you're going to want your CSS to do its job properly, so knocking your HTML into shape will set you off on the right foot. This book will take you through the basics as painlessly as possible. You’ll find that this book approaches HTML from a strong emphasis on W3C standards and semantic mark-up.
CSS: Likewise if you have used tables in the past for your design, be prepared to shake things up a little. You're going to have to remove all that presentational mark-up and put it in a separate file and link to it from your HTML. Sound worrying? This book will build your confidence in putting bad old presentational HTML to bed, there's probably not a better reason to buy the book. You'll learn the basics very quickly with the helpful step guide and examples.
CSS vs Tables-based layout: This book will cover some of the theory behind layout in CSS, but you're going to have to hold off thinking your sites will become ground breaking the day you open the first page. As with anything, experience and time will see your future projects flourish.
For the record, this book will not teach so called 'advanced' CSS layouts, and the reason is very simple; it is about getting a solid grounding first. Later you can progress with those skills and be in a far stronger position to tackle the problems that will inevitably occur when you start to dip your toe into more complicated CSS.
Saying that, there’s no reason to suggest this book doesn’t give you what you need to know in order to forge ahead. If you’re fairly apt at gaining new knowledge and skills, you’ll find the all the necessary knowledge in this book; perhaps the hardest part for many (myself included) would be to take this knowledge to the next level by yourself. But at least when you do either experiment by yourself or look at other books/tutorials, you’ll already be familiar with the concepts.
"I'm new to this and I've had trouble following other books/online tutorials, I'm looking for a book that explains how it all fits together, is this it?"
"I've used a WYSIWYG editor up until now, will this book help me learn what’s going on in the code?"
Speaking from experience I can say yes. If you read the above then you'll already know something about why the book is good for beginners, not only with HTML but also CSS too. The most important factor for beginners using this book is to work through the example website that is given in the book, I made the mistake of trying to use it as a guide to building my own site. Try not to be distracted by your own plans but spend the time working through the book, it will pay dividends when you finally come to work on your own site. When I was getting nowhere with my project, I went back to the beginning and did just that.
There’s ample theory presented in this book, all of it very easy to absorb as it is clearly written and well structured. You don’t just get a block of pure theory without any examples. The book utilises diagrams where necessary to back up the text making it very accessible to new learners in this area.
Following the book, you’ll quickly become accustomed to the basics of HTML and CSS and you’ll see your progress go skyward. The best part is that you’ll be learning without it ever feeling like it’s an uphill struggle.
As for those coming to the book from a WYSIWYG background, using this book to learn will teach you how to spot what is relevant in the code your editor is generating, and give you the confidence to edit it directly.
"So ok, I could do with advancing my knowledge of HTML and CSS, but what else does the book teach?"
(The following can be found by reading the sample pdf, where you’ll find a full list in the Table of Contents.)
Learn how to include images/pictures and the accessibility features used to describe them, in addition to learning about the background property in CSS.
Tables: You'll learn to create tables for tabular data only.
Forms: You'll learn how to create a form. (as in a contact form)
For the complete website beginner the book will also teach you how to get your website online, and what tools you’ll need to do it. It covers all the basics about hosting FTP. In addition to this, there's a handy chapter on how to integrate a blogger.com blog into your site - no need to worry about a Content Management System yet! It also covers where you can get statistics tracking, and how to include a search tool for your site.
So as you can see, the book will teach you a great deal about getting your first website up and running. You'll also find a chapter on where you can go next to progress your learning, with a brief outline of other web-related topics and programming languages. Of course this is only a guide to the vastness that is web design/development, but it serves as a good introduction to the beginner.
Lastly don't forget that there are many ‘Website’ books out there which probably shouldn't be on the shelves still; if you want a fast track to correct and compliant code you couldn't do better than this beginner’s book.
Oh and just in case you’re not convinced, I've been using the excellent HTML-reference appendix ever since.
Words of caution:
This book is ideal for the beginner without a doubt. However someone coming to this book already having some experience with getting web pages online the tables way may find the first few chapters tedious. To be fair however, if you’ve been using tables you need this clean slate to work from just as much as the beginner.
Summary of Pro's: This book is for you if:
You need an introductory book to learn HTML and CSS with the aim of building your own websites, (of which you have many ideas already circulating).
You have no prior experience with computer languages and need a clear introduction(I can hold my hand up to that one)
You use tables and presentational HTML and are looking at modernising your pages.
You really just want to put up a website for your hobbie or club, from start to finish all inculded.
Summary of Cons:
You'll need to look elsewhere for Advanced CSS layout techniques (and the resulting Browser bugs/hacks.)
Don’t expect this book to teach you how to create a gradient in a graphics program or other such wonderful web graphics, you'll have to learn that in a book/tutorial specifically about creating graphics for the web.
Useful sitepoint books to progress to:
HTML Utopia: Designing without tables
Principles of Beautiful Web Design