Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML

I have reviewed many HTML books over the past few years. Each one presents the information in basically the same way. Item name followed by a description and example. This book takes a new approach to teaching what can be a dry subject, HTML. I am calling their approach creative; that is their style of presenting the information differs from the norm. The colors, the fonts, the layout, the examples, they are all very creative.

Today, just as in 1995, HTML is the key to making any web site. Are there tools to do it automatically? Yes, there are such tools. However if you use the tools without understanding how they work and what they produce, you will never fully understand how to create a web page properly.

Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML

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The book starts with a basic understanding of HTML using a fictional company, Starbuzz. The authors show you how to create a file on both Mac and PC and each bit of code is displayed in a large, easily readable font.

Chapter four is something not always found in a basic HTML book. This chapter explains how the web page “works.” What I mean is that they discuss URL’s, root folders, FTP, linking, default pages, domain names, etc. This chapter is the transition to actual live web pages vs. working on your local machine.

I am glad to see that the authors discuss code compliance and validation. If you read my blog entries, you can see how important I think this is. In fact, code compliance and validation separates the coders from the wannabes. They show examples of how to use the W3C validator and make corrections to obtain compliance. Included in this discussion is the dreaded Doctype. They even have a crossword puzzle on page 262 that will help get the compliance issues to sink in.

The next topic the book covers is XHTML. I disagree with the authors on the flow of information here. I would have discussed CSS and then XHTML. I consider writing XHTML advanced and to offer one quick chapter on it might not do the new coder any justice.

The largest chunk of the book covers CSS. The components of CSS (headings, images, elements, identification, paragraphs) are all included. These chapters are the best example of the clear descriptions and explanations using examples and creation of sample web sites. I really like the size of the text for the examples, it is very readable and the annotations make it easy to understand inside the context of the code.

The next block of chapters discuss layout using DIV. This is where it is at today. I tried to fight it for a few years, but no more. When creating a new web site, you should look at using DIV. While it might not be right in every situation, it sure does make things more accessible. The book shows how to create several DIV layouts, two-column, three-column. Also included is a discussion on relative and absolute positioning.

The last chapters cover additional information about using XHTML. I still think that the prior XHTML discussion belongs with this piece. The authors explain how to create lists and forms using XHTML and CSS. This should wet your appetite for more thorough XHTML reading.

In summary, I think this book is well worth a purchase for the new web developer or designer. While even the most experienced developer would pick up a trick or two, the book really lends itself to a newbie. The book is about 600 pages and there is value to each page. The games and puzzles are a nice break from the traditional and offer a way to really get the information learned in the chapter to stick. I would easily consider this book the most fun reading I have done about HTML/CSS/XHTML ever.

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Creativity, new media methods, just under 700 pages and very clear explanations of some complicated subjects.

If you like traditional books, this one is not for you.

Bottom Line:
Certainly an interesting book and worth a look for its creative teaching methods.