Book Review - HTML + CSS: The Good Parts

Over the last few weeks, I read Ben Henick’s HTML + CSS: The Good Parts, published by O’Reilly Media. I grabbed the book in part because of having read the excellent JavaScript: The Good Parts a couple of years ago, written by Yahoo!’s own Douglas Crockford, whom I will have the opportunity to hear in a couple of weeks at YUIConf. Unfortunately, Henick’s book didn’t strike me as strongly, but I think that was largely a problem of scope.

See, Crockford only had to talk about JavaScript, and specifically the language as defined in the ECMA standards. Henick, on the other hand, has to discuss not only the standards around HTML, CSS, and DOM, but also the differences between browser implementations, at least in the most important places. True, Henick’s book is twice as long, but the problem space is over ten times as big.

I’ve been doing web development for the last four years, not exceptionally long, but in that time I’ve thrown myself into the problem space trying to become proficient. Had I read this book three years ago, I’d probably feel a lot more positive about it. Which is unfair, it’s actually an excellent book, even with it’s near constant referrals to the companion website, and even having finished the book, I have used it for reference on a few things that I knew I’d remembered reading in it, particularly when investigating how to deal with the IE menace from time to time.

This book is not the canonical source for any one topic, but as an overview, it’s excellent. And Henick is always there pointing toward more complete resources, from references to dozens of other books or websites that cover the topics in more details. If I managed new web developers, this is probably the book I’d issue to all my hires. It contains plenty of good information, and it’s a solid overview.

If you’re new to the web, it’s where I’d suggest you start. If you’ve been in the ecosystem for a while, and have really been immersed in it, well…this probably isn’t the book for you. I suspect the primary reason I reached to it for reference recently was largely that it was fresh in my mind. Make no doubt, this book is useful, but the size of the problem it’s talking about is so broad, that is mostly only scratches the surface. I know that I’ve collected more complete references on many of these issues, either in books or in links.

The book was good, but I don’t necessarily think it was good for me.