I am a professional software developer. I've dabbled in HTML as part of my job, but in late 2001 decided to finally take the time to learn the latest HTML standards right. So I set out to find the best and most comprehensive HTML book there was. I considered the five most available and highly-rated ones: Laura Lemay's Teach Yourself (Professional Edition), The HTML Bible, the Wrox HTML book, Elizabeth's Visual QuickStart Guide, and Molly Holzschlag's Special Edition.
None of them are perfect, but Lemay's book seemed to be the best of the bunch - at the time (more on that later). I worked through it the hard way - from cover to cover. Now I can share with you my observations:
1) Comprehensive coverage of almost all the important topics, from site planning, the HTML language itself, sound/video to design tips, site marketing and server admin. Its unrivaled breadth gives the novice a good survey of the entire field.
3) Commitment to XHTML1.0 means you will learn to do things the right way
4) The three meaty chapters on web server set-up and admin set this book apart, as are the chapters on site marketing and testing.
5) As for the basics, good coverage of text formatting and wrapping
6) Clean, readable writing and layout
1) The only major shortfall - insubstantial CSS coverage. The future of page design deserves more than one rather generic chapter. Particularly annoying is Lemay's practice in early chapters of introducing classic formatting tags/attributes only to tell you it's deprecated in HTML 4.0. A comprehensive chart of old-vs-new practices at the end of the CSS chapter would have been helpful, as are re-implementations of all previous examples in standard-compliant HTML (especially for tables).
2) There should have been a few color insert-pages - to help explain the Using Colors section, at least! (I am thinking about the Color Wheel model in the old <i>Teach Yourself Web Design</i> book)
3) Laura Lemay is not a professional designer, and it shows. Look at any HTML book and you can tell whether the author is a Developer, a Tech Writer or a Designer. Lemay writes well and gives some good general design advices, but her example pages are uninspiring. Typography, an issue dear to designers and problematic in the web world, receives scant attention. To learn design, go to chapter 6, 7, 8, 12 of Robin William's "The Non-Designer's Web Book" for sharp and practical advices.
4) Skimpy on: WYSIWYG tools, Java, streaming, Flash, META tags, DNS and domain registration; no mention of the AOL browser
What worries me though, is that the book is not being maintained. Its companion site is gone, and Laura herself stated on her site that she's retired. In contrast, Molly Holzschlag is an active member of the web designer community and her "Special Edition" was just updated last May - so that may be the new Gold Standard now.