If you have a reasonably intelligent friend who is not a programmer and wants you to build him a web site, you have several options. You could build it…and probably be stuck maintaining it. You could point him in the direction of DreamWeaver or similar programs, or a template site, and still be the person he runs to for help. Or you could tell him to buy a copy of this book.
Book Review HTML, XHTML and CSS, Sixth Edition - Format Conducive to Learning (Page 2 of 4 )
The book comprises 26 chapters (including the introduction), six appendices, an index, and a foldout color table. You get a feeling for how comprehensive this book is just from looking at the table of contents, because each chapter lists all of its topics; you know exactly what you're getting. When Castro says her computer books start at the beginning without treating you like an idiot, she isn't kidding. The introduction gives you a little history and background concerning the World Wide Web, the browser wars, the differences between XHTML and HTML, how the book works, and what has changed in the sixth edition. It's all relevant. For someone just discovering the Internet and the web, it gives you some idea where all this came from; for a veteran Internet reporter like me, it served as a quick review and helped fill in some gaps.
From there, Castro goes right into the basic building blocks of a web page. She explains the three principal types of markup (as well as what markup is), and it is here in this first chapter that we begin to see the intelligence of this book's design as a teaching aid. When you have the book open in front of you, you see four columns, two per page. The columns on the far left and the far right are the explanatory text. The ones in the middle show the actual examples, usually as figures or screen shots of some kind. Often code is shown, with a screen shot of the web page it produces. Putting the examples right next to the text describing them in this way helps immensely with the learning process.
The publisher could still have messed this up, but Peachpit apparently shines in the details. Every time code is used (which is practically everywhere, of course), the specific code being discussed is highlighted in an easy-on-the-eyes but attention-getting blue. Additionally, each figure (especially code, but images as well) includes a caption that explains exactly what's going on in a tone as conversational as the main body of the text. It's rarely just one line, either; usually it's two or three sentences, and no fluff about it.
Different browsers handle code differently. Internet Explorer is notorious, even in the latest version (IE 7) for not supporting many of the same features of CSS that are supported in other browsers. It also has other quirks. Castro very carefully explains, when you get to each section, what is and is not supported by IE, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, and how to work around any problems.
Indeed, one of the things I particularly like about Castro's style is the fact that she does explain everything. Usually each subsection of a chapter starts by describing the item that will be discussed and perhaps why you would want to use it (in maybe a paragraph). This is followed by a numbered, step-by-step description telling how to create or include the item.
Each number not only tells you what to do, but often why you are doing it, and sometimes finer points. For instance, in a section on linking thumbnails to images, Castro notes that "You could include the actual file size of the full-sized image so the visitor knows what they're getting into by clicking it," which is a nice reminder to be courteous; not everyone has broadband just yet. Castro includes more of these glosses after the step-by-step instructions as tips. Sections also frequently reference other sections that appear either earlier or later, when they mention something that is explained in more detail elsewhere in the book.