Web Design Book Review: HTML Manual of Style

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HTML Manual of Style: A Clear, Concise Reference for Hypertext Markup Language (including HTML5) is by Larry Aronson from Addison Wesley Publishing (2011).

It’s been quite some time since I received a book from a publisher that I couldn’t recommend. I can’t recommend this one. There are many parts of it that are okay, but there are also sections that are confusing, disorganized or just plain  disconnected from best practice.

I won’t describe the acceptable material, although there was some, because it’s overwhelmed by the sections that I wouldn’t want to see a web educator teaching in a modern classroom.

Here are a few of the things that bothered me.

Throughout the book, there is a mishmash of HTML 3.2, HTML 4, XHTML, and HTML5. Often there is no explanation as to which is which, what’s deprecated or obsolete, and what might not work yet in certain browsers. The DOCTYPE provided is for HTML5. That DOCTYPE is not explained, it’s just given as the only DOCTYPE. (I guess that means backwards compatibility must compensate for just about everything.)

In Chapter 2, titled The HTML Language, there’s a section on Tables. It gives some sample code for a table and lists some attributes that can be applied to various table elements—including border, cellpadding, and bgcolor. You read that right: bgcolor The next code block shows some alignment and spacing presentation rules in a table using CSS, but includes this table tag:

<table cellspacing="0" border="1" align="center" width="80%">

There’s no explanation as to why some CSS is used to style parts of the table but not the spacing and the borders, nor why the obsolete align="center" is used.

Here’s the final part of the Tables section.

When tables are coded by hand, the author generally knows what kind of content will go into the cells. However, when tables are generated by server-side scripts drawing content from a database, it is less certain what content, if any, will go into a given row or cell. Therefore, extra care is needed to deal with null data values and edge conditions.

Server-side scripts? Null data values and edge conditions? Wondering what that means in terms of coding a table? Well, there’s no explanation, the phrases are just dropped in there like the reader knows what it’s about.

Later in Chapter 2, in a section on inline images, the author shows how to use the HTML5 figure and figcaption elements, then goes on to explain how to control the presentation of an image using align and hspace
and vspace attributes. Yes, the suggestion is to put obsolete HTML 3.2 presentational attributes in an HTML5 element. CSS isn’t mentioned.

Chapter 4 is called Using HTML. I’m quoting from a section called Tools of the Trade:

The most important tool for working with HTML is the View Source option, available from a menu or toolbar on most browsers.


I could cite more examples of what I think makes this book not one you want to buy, but I’ll leave it at that.

The thing that upsets me the most about this book is that it’s from Addison Wesley, an educational publisher with access to school textbook adoption programs. This book is going to get into the hands of middle and high school teachers, who—let’s face it—usually don’t have the training to teach HTML. They rely on the textbook—use it as curriculum and build a program around it. Students using this book are not going to learn best practices, web standards, or accessibility. They deserve better.

Summary: Not the best choice for classroom use.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of HTML Manual of Style (rating: 1 stars)

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2 thoughts on “Web Design Book Review: HTML Manual of Style”

  1. > The DOCTYPE provided is for
    > HTML5. That DOCTYPE is not
    > explained, it’s just given
    > as
    > the only DOCTYPE. (I guess
    > that means backwards
    > compatibility must
    > compensate > for just about
    > everything.)

    The HTML5 doctype was chosen primarily because it was fully backward compatible with existing browsers.

    The book is awful, though. I saw an early copy, too.

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