A Book Apart: Essential Reading for Anyone Working on the Web

When’s the last time you read a technical book that didn’t make your head spin? One that you actually learned something from, and didn’t fall asleep while reading it? One that inspired you to get up and create something better?

Book reviews aren’t exactly what you’ve come to expect from AppStorm. There’s not lots of books about web apps, though Steven Levy’s In the Plex is a great example of an excellent book about web apps: the whole Google ecosystem. But, if you’re wanting to build your own web apps or sites, you’d do well to start with reading books. Seriously. Good books can be invaluable resources, no matter how experienced you are. It’s even better when the books are actually interesting and make it easy to learn.

That’s exactly what the books from A Book Apart are.

What Makes A Book Apart’s Books A Book Apart

A Book Apart is a small publishing firm run by Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, and Mandy Brown, some of the same people behind the influential web development site A List Apart. Their goal is to publish books about web design, development, and publishing that are concise yet detailed, simple to understand yet powerfully useful.

The goal of every title in our catalog is to shed clear light on a tricky subject, and do it fast, so you can get back to work.

~About A Book Apart

With that, they’ve done an amazing job so far. A Book Apart has published 7 titles, including the just-released 7th book, Design is a Job, and an 8th title is scheduled to be released later this year. Each title has around 100 pages, broken into easily readable chapters with plenty of examples to make sure you’ll be able to put into practice what you’re taught. And teach you they will: each of these books feels like a concise course on their intended subject, almost more like series of essays that shape your world view of design and development and push you on to better work.

In fact, they’re so educational, I’ve found that they’ve opened up entire new field of thought to me. Whether you develop web apps or sites for a living, or simply have a passing interest in web apps, you’ve definitely heard of HTML5 and CSS3, and likely could mention off-hand what responsive web design is. But what about content strategy? Or why should you focus on mobile development first, something most sites and apps still don’t do? The books from A Book Apart challenge you to think, and even as a writer, I’ve found that their books about design have helped me guide my own craft and try to improve my own work.

Their books are readable and approachable like almost no other tech books are, and you should definitely check out their sample chapters just to get a feel for how much higher quality their writing is than most technical books. Nothing against O’Reilly or another other tech publishers, but A Book Apart has simply achieved a level of writing quality and instruction in their books that easily surpasses most other tech writing. That’s what makes them so interesting. They’ve condensed each topic they cover into its essence, and make it fun to learn a bit more about how you can use what they’re writing about to improve your work.

A Library Apart

The Books

Since they’ve launched, A Book Apart has quickly grown to have a full library of web development, design, and writing titles. So far, they’ve released:

  1. HTML5 for Web Designers
  2. CSS3 For Web Designers
  3. The Elements of Content Strategy (my personal favorite)
  4. Responsive Web Design
  5. Designing for Emotion
  6. Mobile First
  7. Design Is a Job

The books almost go in sets of books whose topics go together, and A Book Apart obviously thinks so, since they sell them in bundles. But really, the whole set of books goes together, giving you an overview of the entire job of web development and design, and how those websites should be directed and filled with content. Each book is available as an $18 paper book or a $9 eBook, and I personally have only ever bought them as eBooks. The great thing is, their eBooks work great no matter what app you’re using: Kindle, iBooks, Adobe Reader, or perhaps a web app like Booki.sh. When you buy an eBook from A Book Apart, you’ll get a zip file with a PDF, ePub, and Mobi copy of the book, all DRM free so you can easily read them wherever.

Many eBooks, especially technical eBooks, look like poorly designed copies of their paper cousins. They lose formatting, info tables, screenshots, code samples, footnotes, and more. Plus, they’re often not priced very competitively compared to their paper editions. Just look through the Kindle tech section and look at some of the samples. They’re often a mess. A Book Apart, however, designed their books with eBooks in mind, and that’s obvious when you’re reading them, no matter what app you’re using. Their design still comes through, and you’ll still be able to easily get everything you would have gotten in a paper book. They include enough footnotes and references, you can often learn much more from the book if you take the time to look up all the resources.

The books are beautiful eBooks, and have plenty of footnotes for further learning

Better yet, several of their books include built-on videos, making the eBooks even better than their paper editions. In the CSS3 for Web Designers book, for example, you can watch videos showing the CSS3 animations in action, helping you know what you should expect when using the things you’re learning in a design. It’s one of the many ways that their books manage to teach more in less words by focusing on what really matters, and making the most of eBooks to do it.

Video inside a book? Why not? Now try that on a paper book!

Ok, it’s time to go read A Book Apart.

No matter where you stand in the world of web apps – a developer, a reviewer, a user, a dreamer who hopes to make web apps some day – you can easily learn a lot from the A Book Apart books. I’ve found them helpful in my own writing and limited design and development work, and hope to continue to learn more from their newer titles I’ve yet to read. Even today, looking over their Mobile First book, I was reminded of how we should keep mobile readers in mind with our site and content. Their Content Strategy book entirely changed my thoughts in my documentation and tech writing work, and prompted me to continue learning more about content strategy.

Ready to challenge yourself to develop, design, and create better online? Then perhaps it’s time for A Book Apart.