HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites

Do you have a website?

Okay, wait let me back up and rephrase: do you wish you had a website but think it’s too difficult to get started?

I’m talking to absolute beginners here.  Perhaps all you have is a vision or a dream.  Or maybe you’ve dabbled with HTML tutorials and can sling around a few acronyms but you’ve never really understood how it all works.

Well I’ve got good news for you: all web developers started where you are right now.  Even yours truly started there.  We all did and I can tell you that the preponderance of books, tutorials and Youtube videos can be overwhelming.

In my quest to learn HTML and eventually CSS I’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours trying to figure out the basics.

Let me save you the trouble and recommend the one book that made all the difference…

The book that changed it all for me was HTML&CSS design and build websites by Jon Duckett.

I’m going to break down my review as follows:

  • Awesome Aesthetics
  • Cogent Content
  • Things you might not like
  • Summary

Let’s jump in!

The look and feel

The first thing you’ll notice when you hold this book is that it feels solid for the price. (I think it’s less than $20 on Amazon right now).  The physical weight of the book is solid and the pages feel nice.  As you thumb through, you’ll see copious content filled with beautiful typography explaining how to create your first webpages.

I want to start here with aesthetics because some books have great content but they lack sex appeal and therefore negate any nascent desire you had to read them. When a book has good content and looks good it’s a win-win.

Reading becomes less laborious and learning becomes fun.

That’s what I think Duckett did with this one.

I’ve read it cover-to-cover twice and I think he’s perfected how to convey a abstruse topic in a readable, beautiful format.

The content

There is certainly no dearth of content here.  Duckett moves at careful pace and has deliberate explanations of using text, lists, links, images, tables, forms, video, images, color and process and design. It’s a complete package that gives you everything you need to start creating content.  I can’t remember how long it took me to finish the book, but it really helps if you follow along with his examples.  When he starts changing fonts and positioning images you should have your text editor open following his lead.

Then you can branch off and do your old thing based off the new knowledge you gained.  In my estimation, this is the best way to get comfortable with this stuff.

Read and do.

You learn that HTML is the scaffolding for websites and CSS is what makes it beautiful.  HTML provides structure and CSS provides presentation.  In fact, the book is bifurcated into both parts so you can learn how to build the framework for your site and then spruce it up with flexible layouts, stylized tables and tantalizing typography.

Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the book is its low barrier to entry.  Duckett doesn’t condescend with grandiloquent prose or tech jargon.  Instead he writes at a measured pace, showing you how to get started with little more than a web browser and a text editor.

If after reading this book you still don’t have a website you only have yourself to blame.  He makes it so easy to get started that I’m convinced anyone with a desire to build websites can do so with ease.

Anything bad about it?

Don’t get this book if you’re already proficient with HTML and CSS.  It’ll underwhelm you and you’ll feel like the topics are too rudimentary.  This is not a book for advanced users.

Let me be blunt here: advanced geeks aren’t welcome!

Also you’ll find a few antiquated HTML and CSS tags mixed with the newer HTML5 and CSS3 tags.  I think Duckett did this to prepare the reader for anything she might encounter.  There are tons of bad sites out there using tables for layout and committing other blasphemous acts with HTML. So I simply think Duckett was trying to arm his audience with the skills needed to identify both bad and good HTML.

Lastly, the book design uses tiny text in some place and vivid full-page spreads that are potentially nettlesome.

For example, the introduction to the CSS section has black text against a fuchsia background which is a little difficult to read.  Some people might find this a little hard on the eyes.  Similarlly, the chapter summaries in the HTML section flaunt black text against an electric blue background.  For me the contrast wasn’t a deal breaker but if you have older eyes it could be more of a bane than a boon.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately I think HTML&CSS Design and Build Websites is a winning book.  There’s a reason why it’s an Amazon bestseller and there’s a reason why I’ve consulted it multiple times in my own web development projects.

If you’re just getting started and need direction on where to begin, start with this book.  Duckett won’t show you how to find a webhost, domain name or use a blogging platform such as WordPress but he gives you an indomitable understanding of the basics so you can explore those areas.

Have you read this book or other HTML and CSS books?  Which ones have you found the most useful?

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