Review: HTML for the World Wide Web with XHTML and CSS

From my perspective as a teacher of HTML, there has been no better book to use over the years than Elizabeth Castro’s HTML for the World Wide Web, a Visual Quickstart Guide from Peachpit Press. I have bought every new edition and have consistently found each one to be an improvement over the last. The 5th edition is now available and it is a new gem.

It is always a struggle to keep up in this business. The minute you learn something, it changes. Tags get deprecated, new standards appear, new functions materialize with amazing rapidity. Each new edition of HTML for the World Wide Web has helped me keep up with all this change.

This edition is not just a rewrite, but a whole new approach. It includes XHTML and CSS as the basic knowledge needed to create web pages. Something very interesting about the book’s approach is to take one file and work with it over and over again, applying various tags and styles to it. The page is transformed dozens of times beginning with basic plain vanilla and working through the HTML paces with images, lists, tables, forms, and so on until you end up with a slick and smart looking styled page. Each new chapter adds another basic piece of information to the mix and it is reflected in the example page.

There is more than just XHTML and CSS here. She includes quite a bit of information about using multimedia for sound and movies. There are cgi scripts to accompany the forms chapter and some JavaScripts for a few basic functions. A new chapter on character encoding and language is helpful for those who need to use character sets other than English, or want valid XHTML character encoding information.

As an acknowledgement to a past that won’t go away, Castro includes two chapters on how to layout and format text in what she clearly labels “the old way” using nested tables and font tags. The fact that these are Chapters 21 and 22 tells you how much her approach to HTML has changed since the 4th edition of the book.

There is even a chapter on Wireless Markup Language (WML) for mobile devices. HTML and WML are so closely related that the two are natural together, and it certainly makes sense to me as a teacher to help students learn to make their pages as usable in a mobile world as in a desktop world.

Castro rounds out the book with tips for search engine placement and appendices on XHTML properties and attributes, CSS properties and values, intrinsic events and hexidecimals.

I usually work with Dreamweaver and don’t hand code pages unless I’m teaching basic HTML these days. The site management tools save so much time and work. But I spend a good part of my time working in the code and not in the WYSIWYG window. Elizabeth Castro’s HTML for the World Wide Web is the book that keeps me going in the right direction with all jumping around in the code.

There are a few nitpicky problems with the book. There are some confusing typos, such as an example screen purporting to show how XHTML needs closing tags, but there are no closing tags in the example. She persists in using quotation marks in style declarations of font-family where they are not needed. (Quotes are needed in style declarations of fonts with whitespace in the name, such as Times Roman, but not in font names with no whitespace such as Helvetica. She has been using quotes in the last two editions for font names with no whitespace, which is an error that always has to be corrected when working with students.) But overall, I have to say that Liz Castro has hit the bullseye once again with her 5th edition.

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