LaTeX Beginner’s Guide: Review
Stefan Kottwitz, LaTeX: Beginner’s Guide. Packt Publishing, 2011.
If you have looked around this site, you know that one of the tools I use to write is LaTeX. Though it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, it does look like it is becoming more and more popular in the humanities. A sign of this increasing popularity is this new book published by Pack Publishing.
The book covers all the basics of LaTeX and then some in thirteen chapters totaling about three hundred pages. Each chapter contains a Quiz with solutions given in the Appendix.
Since you can view the Table of Contents on line, I won’t detail it. The book starts with the usual Installation chapter with … the LaTeX installation procedure, but only for Windows. It then goes on in a logical sequence starting with formatting words, lines, paragraphs, and pages. Next are lists, tables, tabbings, and pictures (bizarrely in the same chapter as tables), cross-references, lists of references, indexes, bibliographies. I must confess that I skipped chapter 8, maths, since I don’t do maths. Chapter 9 and following deal with fonts (but not much on Unicode), long documents, hyperlinks and bookmarks to finish with a nice and useful chapter on troubleshooting, followed by online resources, answers to quizzes and an index.
Do not be misled, the title of the book may say “Beginner” but the book covers quite a lot of ground. The book is for beginners in LaTeX, but not for computers novices. You will need some fluency in computer lingo since many terms are not defined nor explained. But then, most people who would be aware of the existence of LaTeX and consider using it are probably somewhat computer savvy. The advantage is that the book can cover quite some ground and still remain within a reasonable number of pages.
Overall I found the book to be a good introduction to LaTeX. It packs up quite a good deal of information in a relative small amount of pages and is easy to follow and well organized.
I do have a few caveats though. The book was made using InDesign CS4 (which I use too), not LaTeX. It would have been nice to see LaTeX in action. Furthermore, the book has very little on Unicode, which in this day and age is too bad. The book is about LaTeX, it does not deal at all with XƎTeX, which I use. It’s still useful, but you need to know it. Though the author does mention using Macs, he uses TeXWorks on Windows. As a result, if you use a Mac and TextMate like me, some pages will be useless. But then, I guess you can’t really expect a book dedicated to your particular environment. On the negative side, I must say that the making of the book could be improved. The reproductions of the compiled results of the code are obviously screen captures pasted in the text. But they are of a poor quality. There is also the annoying repetition of section titles like “Time For Action” or “Have a go hero.” Furthermore the book oftentimes reads like a translation (the author is German).
Overall, despite these negatives, this is a good book to have in a LaTeX beginner’s library and a good addition to the classics on LaTeX or to all the on line resources.
(As a disclosure, I need to say that Packt asked me if I would review the book. I did not get paid and Packt had no say in the review. The only perk I got was a copy of the book.)