The good parts

I’ve written before about how I liked Douglas Crockford’s book JavaScript: The Good Parts and how I wish someone would write the corresponding book for R. I just found out this week that O’Reilly has published three more books along the lines of Crockford’s book:

I’m reading the HTML & CSS book. It’s a good read, but not quite what you might expect from the title. It’s not an introductory book on HTML or CSS. It assumes the reader is familiar with the basics of both languages. Instead it focuses on strategy for how to use the two languages.

HTML & CSS: The Good Parts reminds me of Scott Meyers’ Effective C++ books. These books assumed you knew the syntax of C++ but were looking for strategic advice for making the best use of the language. Some have argued that the fact Meyers needed to write these books is evidence that C++ is too complicated. The same could be said of HTML and especially CSS. Both C++ and web standards have evolved over time and are burdened with backward compatibility. But as Bjarne Stroustrup remarked

There are just two kinds of languages: the ones everybody complains about and the ones nobody uses.

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5 thoughts on “The good parts

  1. There are also “Effective” books for Java and C#. I’ve also got “Practical Java” which fills the same role.

  2. JavaScript: The Good Parts is an awesome read, but I wonder if it’s an awesome read specifically because of Crockford. I can only imagine how tough it must have been to pack all of that material into under 150 pages. Is the HTML & CSS version as well written?

    As far as Java goes, like Mike mentioned above, Effective Java by Joshua Bloch is one of the best Java books out there. It’s the same concept as “The Good Parts”. It doesn’t really teach the core language, just how to use it properly.

  3. The HTML & CSS book is good. I read through it quickly, finishing last night. This evening I started re-reading it, paying more attention to detail.

    Sometimes the book gives advice but doesn’t go into details. In other words it will say what to do but not how. In those cases, it often references a page on the book’s web site for details.

    You could learn JavaScript from Crockford’s book, but the HTML & CSS book isn’t so self-contained. A book that covers HTML & CSS, even if you’re very selective of what the “good parts” are, is going to be much larger than Crockford’s book. Ben Henick’s book is a tour of HTML and CSS, along with advice on how to use it, but it’s not exactly a “good parts” book like Crockford’s book.

  4. John, thanks for taking the time to read the book and provide a write-up. The (lack of) uptake/buzz is incrementally my own fault, but a letdown nonetheless…

    I agree that I could have spent more time on the “how” — and gladly would have. As it stood, the contract was for 60–75K words, and I weighed in at 100K even after some heavy-duty triage.

    As for comparisons to JavaScript: The Good Parts, when it was sent to me for review (before I signed my contract), I drew back in a state of shock; the assumption made by that title is that you’re able to code by the seat of your pants, and would prefer to do it right. As specimens of markup, HTML and CSS don’t lend themselves to the same style of thinking (or shouldn’t, at any rate).

    As for actual good parts… those are all architectural. I can’t hold up a subset of either vocabulary and say, “these are good.”

    If I had the Preface to write over again now rather than in two or three years, I would hold up Chapter 5 as explicitly deserving of meditation. (Chapter 5 also contains the best parts of the book’s original material.

    P.S. I like reader e-mails and such. Outreach is how I earned my cred, so I’m trying to spend more time communicating with other developers than I had been in the few years leading up to my O’Reilly contract.

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