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Review: ‘HTML Mastery’ by Paul Haine

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buy from AmazonI must apologise to PPK, whose book is before this one in my queue for book reviews, but I found myself pulling this book off the Shelf Of Truth a couple of days ago to look something up, and decided to record my experience.

Often, when I read reviews of computer books on Amazon, I see complaints like “I could have found all this for free on the Web”. This is certainly the case with web dev book, as we are by nature a caring sharing bunch who publish tips, tricks and ideas for gratis on our blogs. (Plus, anyone who likes a certain feature of any site can just view html source, css or JavaScript anyway).

But such parsimony misses the point. If a book costs me £25, but saves me an hour’s frantic googling around up against a deadline for this CSS trick or that IE6 hack, then it’s worth it for me; I value my time highly. And a book is much more usable on a train or in my armchair.

Paul Haine‘s book is like this; that’s why I got it out of my bookshelf today, a month after first reading it. It’s basically a very usable round-up of state-of-the-art web design. It covers MIME type jihads, the next iterations of (x)html, microformats, and rounds up the latest orthodoxy on semantics and structure. There’s little that I hadn’t seen before, but never gathered into one place, with one authorial voice linking it all. For this, it’s to be commended.

Of course, there’s a great deal in the book that I disagree with (or would enjoy arguing over a pint about, anyway). But that’s the beauty of semantics; there’s lots of different, but highly informed, opinions. Paul Haine has evidently thought deeply, recorded his thought processes and I can recommend this book to the intermediate reader; someone who’s cool with Cederholm, and becoming best buddies with Budd.

Downsides? The downsides are in the production of this book. The reason I took the book down from my shelf today is because I remembered that it mentioned a script that allows IE to simulate the :target pseudo-class. The index tells me that :target is mentioned on page 79.

Page 79, however, says

.. Mozilla and Safari have already begun implementing parts of the CSS3 specification (i.e., the target pseudo-class, as mentioned earlier)

As mentioned earlier. With nothing in the index, that was my cue to go leafing through 78 preceeding pages – which rather negated my main reason for buying tech books: because they make information easy to find.

Similarly, the book hasn’t been copy-edited as well as I’d like, despite the fact that the prelims credit two copy editors (or maybe because there are two editors?). There are times when the author has used the wrong word. No tech author is chosen for their mastery of the English language – it’s their job to know the code (and anyway, no-one on Earth can edit himself). Neither is it the technical reviewer’s job to catch that – they are technical reviewers. It’s solely the duty of the copy editors to spot it, and either query or silently correct it.

I’m not trying to do the book down. Paul Haine has done a bloody good job of condensing a huge subject down to a very readable 200 pages; nothing wrong with the style or the technical subject matter here. Chris and Pete from friends of ED do a great job commissioning and promoting their books, and will hopefully give their production people a kick up the arse. My gripes are those of a publishing wonk rather than a Standards wonk.

Standards wonks will enjoy this book. I did.

One Response to “ Review: ‘HTML Mastery’ by Paul Haine ”

Comment by Ian Lloyd

Who was the stupid tech editor on this then? He should be flayed alive or something. Oh wait, it was me!

Strangely enough, even though I was tech editor, I cannot help correcting English errors too, or at least up to the point where I think “Hang on, that’s not my role here” and start to reign it in a tad …

When I look at the copy changes in my own book, I can appreciate how different the end result is from the copy that the author originally submits.

That said, I really enjoyed Paul’s book 🙂

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