README.1ST: SGML for Writers and Editors

Ronald C. Turner, Timothy A. Douglass + Audrey J. Turner

Prentice Hall 1996
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
I found README.1ST unsatisfying as an introduction to SGML. This was partly because it is extremely slow and rambles a lot — it is clearly written for people without any previous experience with markup languages — and partly because it keeps mixing explanation with propaganda — it sometimes seems more concerned to convince the reader that SGML is a good thing than to explain how it works. Anyone familiar with LaTeX or something similar will probably want to skip this book and head straight for more technical documentation, just as many people do with real README.1ST files. (README.1ST is the first volume of an Open Information Management series, which I presume will contain more technical books on SGML.)

README.1ST begins by explaining generalized markup and introducing SGML (and explaining why it is a good idea) and then goes through the components of a DTD, building a trivial one as an example. It then presents a walkthrough of a full DTD. Thrown in as extras are a brief chapter on HTML (viewed as an SGML application) and one on HyTime. The first was interesting, but is probably too succinct to be much use to anyone without previous experience with HTML, and the second was too brief for me to get much idea of how HyTime is supposed to work.

The most annoying thing about README.1ST is the accompanying floppy. This is supposed to have on it a piece of commercial software called SGMLab, some SGML parsing information from the SGML Users' Group, and the HTML Level 2 and DocBook DTDs. But all it has on it are two DOS .exe files, which I can do nothing at all with. (I'm running Linux, but Mac users will have the same problem.) I never expected to be able to run the SGMLab software, but I don't see why the plaintext documents couldn't have been in plaintext. After all, this is with a book which goes on at length about how one of the reasons SGML is so wonderful is that, being plain ASCII, it is completely portable!

March 1996

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%S SGML for Writers and Editors
%A Turner, Ronald C.
%A Douglass, Timothy A.
%A Turner, Audrey J.
%I Prentice Hall
%D 1996
%O hardcover, index
%G ISBN 0134327179
%P xxi,241pp