Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Guide to LaTeX, 4th ed. A certain ministry with close ties to my church decided one day that they would print a church-planting manual produced in-house. Since the existing manual was a sorry mess, it was decided that we would re-type the whole book. I was entrusted with the task of design and typesetting.

Naturally, I decided to use LaTeX for the task, feeling that it was the best system for the task (no, honey, neither nor MS Word *argh* would do it). I was right, and in no time I was able to produce excellent camera-ready copies of sample chapters. For those who do not know what LaTeX is, here is a description: “LaTeX is a high-quality typesetting system, with features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation. LaTeX is the de facto standard for the communication and publication of scientific documents.”
(From the above linked website; more information here.)

The problem was that LaTeX documentation, or at least the freely available type, was scattered, fragmented, and not very easy to reference. Therefore, I asked Rev S. if we could purchase some manuals. I explained him the purpose of those manuals. Thanks to Rev S. willingness to get documentation, I was able to purchase the book set by Frank Mittelbach et al., The LaTeX Companions, Revised Boxed Set, The: A Complete Guide and Reference for Preparing, Illustrating, and Publishing Technical Documents, 2nd Edition (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2004) from at a very good discounted price.

Oh my. This was pure candy. I felt like a thief, having all those excellent books for a comparatively low price. One of the books included there was that of Helmut Kopka and Patrick W. Daly, Guide to LaTeX, 4th ed.. This book took the place of “introductory material” in the book set. I wondered how useful it could be. Would it be too ‘introductory’? Would it be too ‘reference-like’? It turned out the answer to both questions is “yes”.

This is a book that serves as an excellent starting point for LaTeX. It present a great discussion of every major aspect of the system, along with many tricks that stem from the experience of the authors. Even though it is introductory, the Guide is no tutorial. (If you need a great LaTeX tutorial, check out the excellent, brief and comprehensive book by Tobias Oetiger, The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2e, freely available in several formats.) I approached the book as a LaTeX user, with specific questions in mind about how could I do this or that task in LaTeX, and I was rewarded. But it does not exclude new users; only, again, bear in mind that this is no tutorial.

The writing style is concise and terse; perhaps too terse in some parts. I missed better descriptions in areas such as the fancyhdr package, and fonts. But I felt that I could quickly solve the ambiguities I perceived by coding example documents and testing, and I was right.

All in all, this book, at 597 pages, is good value for your money and even more so if you get it as a part of the book set. Recommended for all, essential to LaTeXnicians. Now, excuse me, I’ll have some more candy… 😀


  1. I dearly love the results I get from Lyx, so I may someday take the time to learn TeX and LaTeX by hand. The type-setting is the only clean print I get from my old dot-matrix.

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