Book Review: The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks

by Louellen Coker on February 10, 2009

When Rachel Andrew’s The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks arrived in my office for review, my staff rolled their eyes collectively as I excitedly began thumbing through the pages. However, after reading out headings that addressed our current questions, the mood quickly changed. Andrew answered one question after another:

  • “How do I remove the large gap between and h1 element and the following paragraph?” (36)
  • “How can I create pure CSS drop-down menus?” (126)
  • “How do I ensure that my tabular data is accessible as well as attractive?” (137)
  • “How do I ensure that users with text-only devices understand how to complete my form?” (185)
  • “How can I send different styles to a particular browser?” (235)
  • “How do I create style sheets for specific devices, such as screen readers or WebTV?” (263)

In short order, this became the most popular book in the office. It was peppered with Post-Its, dog-ears, and highlighting by the end of the week. I had to call for its return so I could review it.

Andrew, who builds Web sites and writes about development, uses CSS daily and seems to understand the struggles of completing a project in record time. Everything about this book delivers on her promise to design an anthology that lets “you quickly find the answer to the particular CSS problem with which you’re struggling at any given point in time. . . . [and] allow you to expand on, and experiment with, the technique in your own time” (xv).

Specifically, Andrew provides blocks of markup that solve many of the common issues developers face regularly. Each chapter is a series of questions that inspires well-written code as effectively as it solves problems. Andrew’s conversational style pulls you into the book and the full-color pages make it easy to navigate and use on the fly. You’ll learn the best CSS practices while dealing with

  • Text styling and other basics
  • Background images and positioning text with images
  • Navigation
  • Appropriate use of tabular data
  • Crossbrowser compatibility
  • Accessibilty and alternative devices
  • CSS positioning and layout

Though this book is not a tutorial for new developers and is light on theory—it covers the basics of getting started with CSS—Andrew sparks your creativity by presenting simple techniques in the early chapters and delving into increasingly complex techniques throughout the remainder of the book. She presents code very clearly and understandably, allowing you to understand how HTML and CSS markup merge to create the desired effect.

Whether you are just beginning to use CSS or are an experienced developer, this book is essential reading. You will undoubtedly find several tips, tricks, and hacks that will improve your projects. You may want to purchase two copies in your office: one for you and one to share.

The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks Rachel Andrew. 2007. 2nd ed. Collingwood, Victoria, Australia: Sitepoint. [ISBN 978-0-9758419-8-3. 392 pages, including index. $39.95 USD (softcover).]

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