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Murach's HTML5 and CSS3

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I was asked to review Murach's HTML5 and CSS3 by Anne Bohem and Zac Ruvalcaba. The book assumes very little prior knowledge and does a good job of introducing HTML and CSS. It guides the reader all the way from installing an editor to uploading their site to a host. Along the way, the reader will also pick up responsive design, learn recipes for common design elements like nav bars and menus, and even incorporate a little scripting.

The book is organised with text on the left hand page while code examples and screenshots are on the right. In contrast to most programming books I have read, it is much more pleasant to be able to see the code that the text refers to without flipping the page.

Guided Tour

The book has four sections. The first is the main tutorial section which runs to just over 300 pages. It briefly introduces the internet, WWW and websites. It then dives into the basics of HTML and CSS. The latter is split into three categories: formatting elements, the box model and page layout. With the basics covered, the book teaches the HTML and CSS pertaining to lists and links, combining them with some recipes for navigation menus. The final part of this introductory section is responsive web design.

I found everything in this section to be clearly explained in plain terms that don't assume prior knowledge on the part of the reader. These are important qualities for a tutorial section even though it might seem overly simplistic to those with a technical background.

The second section (just under 200 pages) delves into more depth on HTML5 and CSS3. However, it is presented in an "as you need them" format. These independent tutorials cover images, tables, forms, audio, video, fonts, printing, transitions, transformations, animations, and filters. At this point, the reader is encouraged to design his or her own syllabus and follow the chapters in any order or as the need arises.

The third section (about 100 pages) is called "Javascript and jQuery for the non-programmer". It explains how to import existing code and how the DOM and event models work. Then it goes on to show some code examples followed by demonstrations of larger libraries, plugins and an extensive overview of jQuery Mobile.

I was initially sceptical of this chapter but using existing libraries is an important part of web design. The code in the larger examples it uses is described at least at a superficial level. Furthermore, the DOM and events chapters (which also include code examples) are more detailed than I would have expected in a book about HTML.

A good reader would at least be able to do some basic form validation and a programmer would be able to see how to transfer their skills from another language. While a rigorous treatment of programming is out of scope for this book, the authors have done a reasonable job of covering some of the HTML-specific aspects.

The fourth section (about 50 pages) is about designing and deploying a website. The design part is a brief tour of current guidelines such as accessibility, mobile, home page and navigation considerations, writing for the web and graphic design. It also includes a recipe for designing the whole site. The deployment section covers issues ranging from finding a host to uploading files.

The design section really only pays lip service to the field. However, as a chapter of an introductory web development book, it does a good job of bringing the reader's attention to some of the issues and even goes as far as giving some guidance.

The advice about deployment could easily have been omitted but I think it rounds off the book nicely. After all, most readers will be intending to make a website so some advice on deployment will be welcome. Even those who won't be doing the deployment themselves will benefit from a little background knowledge.

Paper or eBook

The book runs to 682 pages and is 4.5 cm thick. It's big and heavy. However, if you want to get this book, I strongly recommend the paper version over the electronic version.

The book's layout of text on the left page, examples on the right works wonderfully for the paper version but is too difficult to use as an eBook. If you have a huge screen it might be OK but on my 15" laptop screen it was just too uncomfortable. I hate to imagine what it would be like on a tablet or phone.

Another gripe I have with the eBook is that you have read it on LockLizard Viewer. It's not a bad piece of software but I already have a PDF viewer that I like and I don't want to install a third party one just to read a single PDF.

Closing Thoughts

The book offers clear explanations for a beginner and has plenty examples and exercises. However, at a whopping 682 pages it is a wee bit long. I feel that the introduction could be trimmed and some of the double-page spreads are a bit unneccessary. Don't get me wrong, I think that's a fantastic way to present code alongside a description but many non-code examples leave a lot of whitespace or repeat information in bullet point form.

The book's cover claims it is for teaching and reference. However, all the sections are geared towards teaching. I would expect a reference book to include a comprehensive information for all HTML elements, for example. I don't see that in this book.

So, should you buy this book? If you don't already know HTML and CSS, and also want some high level background information about websites and the internet then this book might be for you.

If you just want to update your knowledge or have a strong background in a related field then you might find some of the high level descriptions a bit simplistic for your liking.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book on the grounds that I would publish a review.

2 Comments On This Entry

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15 August 2015 - 12:37 PM
Great review my friend! I, too, am very novice in the HTML/CSS field and would benefit greatly from some good literature on the subject.

I am using a website much like CodeAcademy to practice html/css, but, to me, having some literature to study alongside while doing the excersises on the site I mentioned, is much more beneficial in my opinion.

So, I am interested in the book you have reviewed here, but unfortunately I am "between" jobs at the moment and cannot afford to purchase it.

My question to you, since you seem to have some good knowledge on the subject, is can you point me in the directions of some good and open(free) pdf's on the subject?


15 August 2015 - 01:08 PM
To be honest, whenever I want to find something out I just google it. I'm not really familiar with the books that are out there. Web stuff moves so fast and the literature moves with it.

You would be best asking in one of the web forums. There might even be a sticky there with recommendations.
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