Updated June 2021
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Buying guide for best css books

If you’re a web developer or designer, you will need to roll up your sleeves and dive into HTML — and that means you will probably want to know CSS as well. While it is not technically a programming language, CSS is still a language and comes with its own syntax and jargon. As a result, it can take some time and practice to learn.

A CSS book can help you get started quickly with glossaries, walkthroughs, visuals, and troubleshooting guides. As with any how-to guide, CSS books vary greatly in their content, detail, and shelf life. In addition, some books are geared toward beginners, while others assume you have a familiarity with HTML and other markup languages and scripting languages. You should also consider whether you would prefer a paperback, a hardcover or an eBook.

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Cross-references are important in a CSS book because many elements have bearing on other elements. Changing one aspect of a web page may require you to change something else.

Key considerations


CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, is a way to define the design and appearance of a web page. While HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, can contain CSS, it never works in the opposite direction — CSS cannot contain HTML.

While HTML uses tags such as <tagname> in front and at the end of a block of content, CSS uses something called selectors, which indicate specific elements in the markup, and declaration blocks, which define selectors. These examples demonstrate the differences. (The quotation marks in these examples are not part of the HTML or CSS.)

HTML  “<p>This is a line of text.</p>”           This specifies a line of text.

CSS    “p {color: red; font-size: 12px;}”          This specifies the color and font size of the text.

When a browser encounters the <p> tag in the first line, it refers back to the CSS declaration specified earlier on the page. What the user sees on the screen looks something like this:

This is a line of text.

The HTML block defines what text will be displayed, and the CSS declaration tells the browser to display the content in red and a certain font size. HTML and CSS are inextricably linked, but they are distinct.

What is your experience level?

Are you a professional web designer or developer? If so, you absolutely need a book (or two or three) on CSS. No one book covers everything, and even if there is considerable overlap between books, you may find value in having different guides from authors with unique approaches.

If you’re a beginner and want to have total control over what your web page looks like or if you’re making a career change and want to become a web page designer, you’re going to need a solid foundation. Algebra requires a firm foundation in basic math, and so does good web design. You’ll need at least one reliable book for beginners and one larger reference book for specific situations and problems.

Skill level

Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you need to understand that CSS is constantly growing and changing in response to new discoveries and requirements online.

Books for beginners have a long, usable shelf life because the basics don’t change very much.

Advanced reference books, by contrast, age very rapidly. They need to be up to be updated constantly and should specify their additions and changes. If your desk reference is more than a year or two old, it’s time for a new one.


Physical copy or eBook?

Digital or physical? Virtually all CSS books are available in both versions. Physical books may be paperback (far cheaper) or hardcover (often expensive).

There is something very satisfying about having a physical book sitting next to you while you work. Flipping back and forth between two pages and tagging pages with bookmarks is often quicker than scrolling through the same book digitally. The downside, of course, is that you can’t copy-and-paste from a book to your computer screen — a huge advantage of eBooks if you use an eBook reader on your computer. If you do most of your reading on an e-Reader, you may prefer a digital book, even if you can’t copy and paste content to your computer easily.

If you can’t decide, you can buy a physical and digital copy. Of course, this is more expensive, but you’d have the advantages of both formats.

Lesson format

CSS books that present huge blocks of information all at once aren’t conducive to learning. The best books are the ones that break it up into small bite-sized lessons that are easier to digest. It may take longer to get through the book, and some of it will be repetitive but you’ll learn the subject more thoroughly that way.

Beginner books often have well-organized lessons to take you through different tasks step-by step. In some cases, illustrations may be included to help you understand how CSS affects the layout and user interface of a website.


This is going to sound a bit nerdy, but a CSS book without an extensive glossary is like a library without a catalog. How are you going to find anything if you don’t know where to look for it?

When you’re trying to create a responsive web page that will automatically resize itself depending on whether someone is using a computer or a smartphone, the last thing you need is to spend wasteful amounts of time paging through unrelated topics trying to find exactly what you’re after.

The best way to determine how easy a CSS book will be to navigate is to read customer reviews. A well-organized glossary can save you countless hours, giving you more time to work on the website itself.

CSS book prices

Inexpensive: The least-expensive CSS books start around $2 and reach up to $12. These will typically be smaller books aimed at beginners, and they may be eBooks or paperbacks.

Mid-range: Mid-range CSS books cost from around $12 to about $30. These may be eBook, paperback, or hardcover editions that can be used by beginners and professionals alike. Some of them may be over 800 pages long and may include extensive glossaries.

Expensive: The high price range is anything over $30 on up to $50 or more. These are large, reference-type books, often with over 1,000 pages of content.

"While CSS is not a programming language, those who have some experience with programming languages will have a head start."


  • If you’re using a CSS book as a reference, always start your search in the glossary when you’re looking for help on a particular topic.
  • CSS is a complex subject. Guides will try to make it appear simple, but it still requires dedication and effort. Set aside some time every day to read the book and practice.
  • If you’re a beginner, treat a CSS book just like any other book. Start at the beginning and read it all the way through, even the parts that seem silly or self-explanatory. Take time to work through the exercises when they come up.
  • Consider keeping a separate pad and pencil next to you and take copious notes as you read through the book, just like you would in a classroom. Writing down what you read (or hear) helps impress it on your memory and helps you collect the information that is most important to you.
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A CSS book that doesn’t have illustrations and screenshots can’t show you how the language will affect the end result.


Q. Is a bigger book always better?
Not necessarily — it depends on what you’re using it for. A reference manual should cover everything on CSS, so it will be fairly hefty. A beginner’s manual will be smaller because it’s not trying to teach you everything all at once.

Q. Why am I getting bored when I read my book?
It may be because it is poorly written. Read customer reviews to get an idea of how engaging a particular guide is.

Q. How long can I use a CSS book?
CSS is a complex, far-ranging subject and no one can remember everything about it. You’ll never outgrow the need for a reference book. However, some of the more technical guides will become outdated within a couple of years.

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