Whether you're a web designer or web developer interested in brushing up on your skills, if you're comfortable working with HTML, it's worth picking up a CSS book to develop a well-rounded skill set. If you prefer an integrated approach, a relationship-driven CSS-HTML book will be best. For a more focused approach, however, you'll want a CSS book that functions either as a refresher or as a targeted learning tool.
But which CSS book is worth reading? To help narrow your choices, keep reading our buying guide, which includes a few of our favorite books at the end. Our top pick, CSS Secrets: Better Solutions to Everyday Web Design Problems, leads with a troubleshooting approach, as it walks you through realistic scenarios and offers tangible solutions.
Considerations when choosing CSS books
Understanding the difference between CSS and HTML
HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language, provides the structure or "bones" of a web document, making it functional. But to make your page actually look good, you also need HTML's helpful companion, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which controls how the text of a web document appears on a screen by stylizing it. CSS styles all aspects of fonts, including typeface, size, and color. CSS is also responsible for alignment, as well as arranging the layout for texts, images, charts, or tables.
Choosing a text based on skill level
Like most technical books or textbooks, you may choose a CSS book based on your skill level. The market is filled with beginner-friendly books as well as impressive tomes that cover all things CSS from A to Z. In fact, these are the easiest to find, as their descriptions and titles are rather transparent.
CSS books for intermediate learners
It can be challenging to find a CSS book targeted for moderately experienced or intermediate learners. If you fall into this category, choose a CSS book whose content is presented in a palatable, organized manner -- the same way you'd learn it in a classroom. This way, you're learning systematically and are more successful in advancing through the book.
CSS books are available as paperbacks, hardcovers, and ebooks. The format can affect the price, with hardcovers being the most expensive. Most CSS books are available in at least two of these formats, so no matter your preference, you can find a medium that suits you.
CSS books present lessons in myriad ways. Some are traditional in design and stick to small, palatable chapters that compartmentalize information. Certain CSS books pair text with images, diagrams, and charts, which is particularly helpful to illustrate concepts.
Other CSS books are fairly dense, which can be a turn-off to some people. While they might not be right for learning, they're useful as reference books.
If there's one part of a CSS book that should affect your decision, it's the glossary. If it's well-organized and easy to navigate, you'll thank yourself later, especially when you encounter an issue that requires an expedited solution.
Beginner-friendly CSS books cost $12 and below. If you prefer in-depth texts with well-developed curriculum and glossaries, be prepared to spend up to $30. For an extensive CSS book that operates like a reference book as it covers all subjects in depth, you can spend closer to $50.
Q. How long does it take to go through a CSS book cover to cover?
A. CSS is technical, so it could take you a considerable amount of time. Keep in mind that learning or brushing up on CSS is a self-paced activity. It's not a race, so take time to digest each section to improve your retention of the subject matter.
Q. Does the edition of the CSS book matter?
A. It depends. The basics don't change too much, but you'll fare better with the newest edition of a CSS book as it offers modern solutions to modern problems. New editions also provide information on building web pages on mobile devices, and it's unlikely you'd find this information in a CSS book written before 2010.
CSS books we recommend
Best of the best: CSS Secrets: Better Solutions to Everyday Web Design Problems by Lea Verou
Our take: Earns high marks from professionals for its pragmatic approach to content.
What we like: Designed from a troubleshooting perspective. Offers realistic and reasonable solutions to everyday issues.
What we dislike: Content is geared toward those with some CSS experience.
Our take: Best choice for an affordable, well-rounded approach to web design covering HTML and CSS.
What we like: Focuses on building responsive websites. Replete with colorful, helpful visuals.
What we dislike: Some chapters are more of an overview as opposed to in-depth discussion.
Our take: A solid choice if you'd like a CSS-focused text with unique information not found elsewhere.
What we like: Modern edition covers current standards and practices. Covers Flexbox and Sass.
What we dislike: Geared toward seasoned programmers, not necessarily beginners.
Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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