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CSS Cookbook

Christopher Schmitt
Published by O'Reilly Media
516 pages
£ 31.99
Published: 27th October 2006
reviewed by Bob Vickers
   in the March 2007 issue (pdf), (html)

There are two ways of documenting software: you can either systematically describe all its features, or you can think about the tasks a user might like to perform and describe how to do them. The Cookbook series is definitely in the second camp, and all the better for that.

Software cookbooks are more ambitious than a typical food cookbook: they don't just provide recipes for you to use, they also discuss them so that you can understand them and produce new recipes of your own. A good recipe will be an elegantly written example of good practice as well as something to get the job done.

So how well does the CSS cookbook manage this? It certainly contains a lot of useful information, and it is well-organised to help you find what you want. I am a relative newcomer to CSS and have found it helpful.

But I couldn't help noticing flaws which made it fall short of being excellent. One obvious one is that the book is not in colour. This is clearly a matter of economics rather than the author's fault, but it is much easier to illustrate web design if colour is available. I was reminded of a snooker commentator in the 70's who once remarked ``for those of you with black and white sets the blue ball is the one behind the pink''!

Anyone learning CSS quickly discovers its Achilles Heel: bugs in the various browser implementations mean you still have to put ugly hacks into your website to make it work on all browsers. The book has detailed information about which features work on what browsers, but I felt there was an unspoken assumption that I wanted my website to look perfect on every conceivable browser all the way back to Netscape 4. I value simplicity and elegance in my code, so I am prepared to put up with a little ugliness for a small minority as long as the content is still accessible.

Sensibly the book does not restrict itself to CSS: it occasionally mentions Javascript and Flash when the author feels they provide a better solution to the problem or a good workaround for a browser bug.

So to summarise: a useful book, but with room for improvement.

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