A Guide to Great Mac Books

  Ric Getter       January 29, 2007      Tutorials Mac Education

We’re not going to do any conjecturing as to why, but it seems like some of the best computer books you can buy are written about the Mac. We’d like to think that the platform simply attracts the most talented and creative writers. Here’s a brief guide to some of the Mac’s most popular authors and publishers.

Not Really For Dummies

You may not see these books displayed prominently on your local computer guru’s bookshelf, but we bet if you look closely you’ll find a few. Whether you’re a newbie trying to figure out how e-mail works or an IT pro needing to get up to speed on a new application as quickly and painlessly as possible, Wiley’s For Dummies series is always a great place to start. If you look past the rather inane cartoons that begin each chapter (a long-standing tradition for the series), you’ll find that the books have an innate sense of exactly what you need to know.

One of the books’ greatest strengths are their consistency and continuity. Throughout the extensive For Dummies library, Wiley uses the same iconography to highlight important points, potential traps, bad features and interesting but otherwise non-essential background information. An introductory chapter gives you an idea of how the book is organized and what you’ll need to read to get the information you’re looking for. Macs for Dummies (originally authored by David Pogue, who we’ll rave about a little later) is one of the best books you can find for a first-time computer user who was smart enough to buy a Mac.

O’Reilly in a Nutshell

Even though they may reside at the other end of the technical scale from the Dummies books, O’Reilly’s most popular titles are as easily recognizable. Their trademark animal woodcuts grace the covers of some of the most popular technology titles in print. The books are concise, incisive and complete, written for people who are serious about mastering a topic. As a rule, the “animal” books focus on content more than appearance, so the only illustrations you’ll find are the most essential screen-shots, tables and code examples. The Nutshell series offers some of the best reference material you’ll find anywhere.

O’Reilly is also the publisher of the Missing Manual series of books from (David) Pogue Press. These are the books you wish you were in the box when you bought the program. But, because they are not, they have the advantage of not needing to soft-pedal a program’s problems and can be upfront with advice on how to work around them. With the series, Pogue brought some of the style and tone from his contributions to the Dummies series and has put his imprint on a series of books useful to people at a variety of skill-levels.

Getting a (Visual) Quick-Start

Successfully straddling the genres of tutorial and reference, the Visual QuickStart (and QuickPro) guides from Peachpit Press are indisputably indispensable. Subscribing to the philosophy that a picture (or at least a screen-shot) is worth a thousand words, these well-illustrated and capably-written guides do exactly what the title says. They’re especially useful if you’re someone who has a more visual learning style and likes to learn by doing. Like a tutorial, the books walk you through examples. However, it’s easy to breeze from topic to topic as you need information. Usually, each subject can stand as a self-contained unit. This ability makes these books most valuable as a reference. The comparatively new QuickPro Guides are dedicated to providing greater detail for more complex programs, but they share the QuickStart Guides clarity and usability. A shining example is Mattise Enzer’s Unix for Mac OS X. It’s a comprehensive and skillfully written guide to the Terminal’s command line.

If you really like the tutorial approach, Peachpit is also the publisher of the Apple’s official Pro Training Series. These are the texts you’ll need to master for Apple certification and they are also an exceptionally useful resource even if you choose not to officially document your genius. The books will work equally well for classroom or self-paced learning.

Some Writers to Watch For

One of the downsides of being a technology writer is that it’s rare for a reader to even notice (never mind remember) the author’s name. In the Mac Community, there are several who have achieved and deserve near-celebrity status. Here are a few to keep and eye out for when you’re shopping around for something to read:

Okay. David Pogue is a celebrity. He’s the technology columnist New York Times, an Emmy award-winning technology correspondent for CBS and has sold over three-million books. His sessions at the annual MacWorld Expo are almost as hard to get into as Steve Jobs’ keynote. And, he deserves every bit of recognition that he receives. His writing is every bit as entertaining as it is informative and his longtime love affair with the Mac is obvious in every word. To the best of our knowledge, he is the only writer to have his name featured prominently on the cover of a user manual (Casady and Green’s Conflict Catcher).

No, it’s not that Robin Williams. Back in the 80s, The Mac is Not a Typewriter helped millions transition from their Royal Portables to MacWrite and Word and politely enlightening us to the facts of life of electronic publishing. Her Little Mac Book (now in its seventh edition and not so little anymore) remains one of the best books available about Macs for the non-techie. Even though she’s written on a variety of topics, her forté has become brilliant books about design for non-designers.

If Macs never crashed, Ted Landau would probably never have become so famous. As the long-time editor of the MacFixit web site, he has always been the go-to guy when things go wrong. He’s now a regular contributor to the print and web affiliates of Macworld. In terms of the number of books he’s written, he’s not the most prolific author on the list, but at 1,100+ pages, Mac OS X Help Line, (the latest in a series that started with Sad Macs, Bombs and Disasters) is probably one of the most comprehensive. His writing takes advantage of the knowledge, contributions and technological tragedies of tens of thousands of his readers. Perhaps his other career (as a professor of psychology) has given him the patience to listen to all our troubles.

If you need to learn about any of Apple’s iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, etc.) applications, see what Jim Heid has to say. He has been writing about these unique programs since Apple first announced its Digital Hub technology. His colorful, well-illustrated books provide all the necessary essentials for learning to use the programs and how well they work as a team. Apple’s iLife applications have created a revolution in the classroom as well as our living rooms. Heid co-authored a separate series just for educators.

There has never been a shortage of great books about Adobe’s Photoshop and the other Creative Suite applications, but Deke McClelland’s name is on many of very best. He’s an extremely talented and entertaining writer and, as a teacher, remains one of the best sources for basic training as well as a veritable fountain of some of the coolest tips and tricks you’ll ever read.

This is really a list that can go on and on and this humble reader must offer his sincere apologies to some of the remarkable authors and titles that he neglected to mention. The best book on a given topic is really a matter of personal taste and the ideal way to find it is to browse the shelves of your local bookstore and take home the tome that you find the most appealing.

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