Pros: Good reference and refresher work
Cons: Audience problems (says all levels, but not good for beginners)
Rating: 3 out of 5
First published 10/25/2000
Obligatory experience note: I am not an experienced web designer; I can only evaluate these books from a fresh perspective and hopefully give you information to help you make your own decision.
Let’s dive straight into the first glaring problem this book has: it can’t make up its mind who it’s for. The back says “all levels,” and the intro says it’s useful for beginners, intermediate users, and advanced users (for the latter, they recommend the book as a reference).
“Overview” or “Introduction” vs. Grab-Bag Effect
Luckily not all of the “introduction” chapters do this sort of thing, but the ones that do are pretty well useless. Happily, you will learn some useful things about CGI, XHTML, and one or two other things.
What You’ll Find in This Book
You’ll find most of the basic HTML here, including a fantastic chapter on navigation and site design, a great chapter on linking, a reasonably explanatory section on CGI and Perl, a fabulous appendix including all of the HTML tags with various bits of useful information (including examples!), a color chart that makes it easier to choose browser-safe colors that are close to what you were looking for, and a huge index. You’ll even find out how to make your HTML XHTML-compatible so that you won’t run into problems later on.
This book goes into more detail than some of the introductory ones; for example, I have a better understanding of cascading style sheets than I did before. But it still leaves things out – various properties and values were inadequately explained, leaving me still with no idea what to do with them. (Why waste space mentioning them if you aren’t going to explain them?)
One major advantage this book has is that it takes UNIX users into account as least as much as Microsoft and Mac users. This is a definite plus to some of us!
Quality of the Writing
Because most of these chapters were written by different authors, there’s a large disparity in the quality from chapter to chapter. Some chapters are amusing and useful and entertaining, such as the chapter on site design and navigation. Plenty of helpful hints are interspersed with some of the funniest banter you’ve seen in a technical book in a while:
This home page is stunning. Not stunning as in “stunningly beautiful,”
but stunning as in “I’ve just been poked by a stun gun, and I’m in a lot
of freaking pain.”
I’d call it hands-down the most useful chapter in the book, and of course it’s hard not to respect any author who has the guts to make fun of his own old web page. Unfortunately some of the other chapters are dry enough to make your eyes glaze over and skip entire pages that you’d really rather not miss (the tables chapter comes to mind).
Lack of Context
There are things that just aren’t adequately covered in some chapters. For example, you find out about different formatting tags that seem to do the same thing (address, i, em) on page 17, but you don’t find out what actually makes them different (or not) until page 252. Often there just isn’t enough context for what you’re learning – early on you’re told about the width and height attributes for images, but not until 353 are you told what effect they have on the download of a web page. In the chapter on “layout technology” I found there sometimes wasn’t enough explanation of what was going on in the examples.
So if you’re only reading the chapters that you think you need in order to do what you need to do, you might be missing important information to help you decide what to do. For these and other reasons, this book might work better as a refresher or reference work, or as a more in-depth continuation from a simpler HTML book, than as a beginner’s manual.
A Word about New Technologies
Also, some of their authors’ predictions just haven’t panned out that way, particularly in the XML chapter. That chapter makes some pretty grandiose claims about XML’s future, many of which I understand just haven’t worked out to be true. So beware of taking their claims at face value.
Again, all of this this makes “HTML Complete” less valuable as a beginner’s resource and more valuable as a refresher and reference work. Some of the supposed “overview” or “introductory” chapters aren’t going to be very useful to someone who doesn’t already have a bit of a grasp of programming. In short, ignore that bit about “all levels.” It isn’t really true.