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Cascading Style Sheets, the Definitive Guide, 2nd edition

by Eric Meyer. 528 pp. O’Reilly, 2004. $39.95 ISBN 0-596-00525-3

In a nutshell, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a way for web designers to separate a document’s content from the way it looks on the screen. CSS had been in the background for much of my own designing experience but as more and more sites became CSS based, I decided to take a much closer look using Eric Meyer’s book which is exactly as advertised: “The Definitive Guide.”

The book takes you step by step through what everything involved in CSS actually is. For readers who are wondering at this point, a style sheet is basically a page or pages of text that are either linked to or embedded in pages of html which define the properties of the elements on a web page, i.e., how they look. If you are reading this review on the MUG ONE web site you’ll notice that all the headers on every page have a pale blue background. If I wanted to change this in every instance throughout the site, all I would have to do change this h2 background color definition – #dff4fd – to whatever, save, and then upload to the server. It would take less than a minute and require expending only 1,412 bits of bandwidth, the current size of the stylesheet.

Every element has a name and a definition so Meyer starts by explaining the broader concepts and slowly drills down into all the specifics. He is one of the world’s experts on the subject and his writing is clear and concise the way CSS must be if you want it to make your web pages look exactly the way you want. It’s useful to follow along with a stylesheet and html page of your own so that visually you understand the rules and conventions and how they interact with each other. It’s also fascinating to look at his own web pages, so start with http://www.meyerweb.com/eric/css/edge/

The book is a bit daunting at first but if you use the three appendices starting with the property reference and flip back and forth, it all begins to come clear. While the latest version of Dreamweaver has WYSIWYG CSS capabilities, I wouldn’t begin to understand it without this valuable reference on my actual desktop.

– John Maas

Copyright ©2005 by John Maas. This review appeared in the November 2005 issue of Newsbreak, the newsletter of MUG ONE - Macintosh User Group of Oneonta, NY.