Second Edition (2016) of Learning LaTeX by David Griffiths and Des Higham

What is the best way to learn \LaTeX? Many free online resources are available, including “getting started” guides, FAQs, references, Wikis, and so on. But in my view you can’t beat using a (physical) book. A book can be read anywhere. You can write notes in it, stick page markers on it, and quickly browse it or look something up in the index.

grhi16_cover.jpg

The first edition of Learning \LaTeX (1997) is a popular introduction to \LaTeX characterized by its brevity, its approach of teaching by example, and its humour. (Full disclosure: the second author is my brother.)

The second edition of the book is 25 percent longer than the first and has several key additions. The amsmath package, particularly of interest for its environments for typesetting multiline equations, is now described. I often struggle to remember the differences between align, alignat, gather, and multline, but three pages of concise examples explain these environments very clearly.

The book now reflects the modern PDF workflow, based on pdflatex as the \TeX engine. If you are still generating dvi files you should consider making the switch!

Other features new to this edition are a section on making bibliographies with Bib\TeX and appendices on making slides with Beamer and posters with the a0poster class, both illustrated with complete sample documents.

Importantly for a book to be used for reference, there is an excellent 10.5-page index which, at about 10% of the length of the book, is unusually thorough (see the discussion on index length in my A Call for Better Indexes).

The 1997 first edition was reviewed in TUGboat (the journal of the TeX Users Group) in 2013 by Boris Veytsman, who had only just become aware of the book. He says

When Karl Berry and I discussed the current situation with \LaTeX books for beginners, he mentioned the old text by Grffiths and Higham as an example of the one made “right”…

This is indeed an incredibly good introduction to \LaTeX. Even today, when many good books are available for beginners, this one stands out.

No doubt Berry and Veytsman would be even more impressed by the improved and expanded second edition.

Given that I regard myself as an advanced \LaTeX user I was surprised to learn something I didn’t know from the book, namely that in an \includegraphics command it is not necessary to specify the extension of the file being included. If you write \includegraphics{myfig} then pdflatex will search for myfig.png, myfig.pdf, myfig.jpg, and myfig.eps, in that order. If you specify

\DeclareGraphicsExtensions{.pdf,.png,.jpg}

in the preamble, \LaTeX will search for the given extensions in the specified order. I usually save my figures in PDF form, but sometimes a MATLAB figure saved as a jpeg file is much smaller.

This major update of the first edition is beautifully typeset, printed on high quality, bright white paper, and weighs just 280g. It is an excellent guide for those new to \LaTeX and a useful reference for experienced users.

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One Response to Second Edition (2016) of Learning LaTeX by David Griffiths and Des Higham

  1. barbara beeton says:

    The first edition is indeed a good reference, and I didn’t know about the second edition until I came across this review quite by chance.
    I’ve recommended to Boris that he should review *this* one now that it exists.

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