The Best HTML Books: A Review of Reviews

This post marks the first in a new category: a review of reviews! I’ve now reviewed enough HTML books that it could be a pain to look through all of the reviews to find the book that would work best for you, so in this post, I’ll briefly summarize each and provide a link to the full review. Naturally, if I review any more HTML books I’ll add them to the list as well. Books are listed in reverse chronological order by when I reviewed them (so the ones at top are likely to be newer). Since it’s more or less impossible to build a modern website using only HTML, most of the books cover CSS as well, and since all modern browsers now implement a good-sized subset of HTML5 (and it’s a pretty hot buzzword), there’s a lot of attention on the new elements and attributes.

Murach’s HTML5 and CSS3 by Zak Ruvalcaba and Anne Boehm
The Murach books have a style that I like (and tend to mention in each review): you see description on the left page, and the associated code on the right page. This makes it easy both to learn the material (since you get to see it twice, from two directions, while you’re learning) and to look things up later (since you can ignore the descriptions and just scan the code). This book starts out with an introductory chapter for people who know nothing whatsoever about websites, then the rest of the first section teaches basic HTML skills. The rest of the book is designed for jumping around to whatever you’re interested in; you don’t need to read through it in order. Section two is straight HTML and CSS, while section three introduces JavaScript (which you’ll need for some HTML5 elements like Canvas). Section four isn’t actually about coding; rather, it covers designing and publishing a website. For me personally, I tend to work with a lot of different technologies (as an example, in the last week or so I’ve used ASP.NET, CSS, C#, HTML, JavaScript, Intersystems Cache, Visual Basic…and that’s just for work) and I often forget minor details when I’m switching languages; for HTML/CSS, this is the book I usually reach for.

HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites by Jon Duckett
This is the most unique of the HTML books I’ve seen, because it’s aimed at graphic designers and other visually inclined people rather than programmers. This is a full-color book with lots of pictures that covers just one concept on each page and attempts to visually show you how each element works. It’s a great choice for people who have trouble with traditional programming books, or just want to try something a little different.

Learning HTML5 Step by Step from Microsoft Press
Whereas the Murach book mentioned above is designed for both new and experienced coders, this offering from Microsoft is aimed squarely at people who know nothing about building websites. Those who are used to using computers may want to pull their hair out from topics like how to save a .html file, and it doesn’t cover advanced topics, but if you’re new to web development and want a step by step guide (thus the name) to how it all works, this could be the book for you.

HTML5 and CSS3: Develop with Tomorrow’s Standards Today by Brian Hogan
Doing a 180 from the Microsoft book, this one assumes that you already have a working knowledge of HTML and CSS; it’s designed simply to introduce you to the new features in the latest versions. If you’ve been coding websites for a few years, you probably don’t need to hear about how fixed positioning works, but you need to know about the new semantic elements (if nothing else, so your clients can brag that their websites are “in HTML5”). In particular, you can now do a number of things with HTML that previously required JavaScript, which makes your pages faster, and the new pseudoclasses make it easy to target your CSS very precisely without adding additional markup. This is the best book I’ve read so far that focuses on the new stuff in HTML5.

HTML5: Up and Running by Mark Pilgrim
The oldest book on this list, this title is starting to show its age (it came out way back in 2010!) Like the Hogan book, it focuses entirely on the new features of HTML5, rather than trying to teach you to build sites from scratch. This was one of the first HTML5 books on the market, and as such a few things have changed since it released (most other HTML5 books had their release dates pushed back due to all the changes taking place at that time) but it’s still a good book. The reason I prefer the Hogan book to this one is that it’s more comprehensive: this is a short book that’s intended to quickly introduce you to the new features in HTML. If you already know HTML and just want to quickly learn what’s new, that’s what you’ll get from this book. If you want more about how to actually use the new stuff, though, there are now better options available. On the bright side, if you think this might be interesting (and I did enjoy reading it, back in 2010!), it’s actually available for free online at

Overall, I’d say that HTML5 and CSS3: Develop with Tomorrow’s Standards Today is my first choice for readability (I actually devoured most of this book on a plane ride from Denver to Madison), while Murach’s HTML5 and CSS3 gets the most use as a reference. I highly recommend these two books.



This entry was posted by William on Saturday, May 19th, 2012 at 10:49 am and is filed under Review of Reviews . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Comment

  1. Carla says:

    Wow, you really know your stuff. It’s great to have a one-stop resource like this.

    I loved this:
    “… this title is starting to show its age (it came out way back in 2010!)”

    Hilarious. Things do move very quickly on the Web!

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