Power Excel & Word by Dan Gookin, ISBN 0-7821-4379-2

Reviewed by: Thomas V. Kappel, November 2004, send e-mail
Published by: Sybex, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$24.99, CDN$34.99

The author of more than 90 computer books including best sellers such as DOS for Dummies and PC’s for Dummies, Dan Gookin has now written a 300+ page book on tips, tricks and workarounds for Microsoft's flagship products Excel and Word.

The contents of the book are about evenly divided between tips, tricks and workarounds for both Word and Excel, covering versions from Office 97 to today’s Office XP. The quality of the tips go from basic knowledge (a lot of tips) to advanced expert (not so many). The chapters are divided, uniquely as far as we can tell, into knowledge areas. Some of these knowledge areas are not normally found in this sort of book. If you're searching for this kind of information in the usual places (online, library, etc.) it can often be difficult to find. Chapter 6 is a good example - Writing that Great American Novel or Screenplay which tells you, among other things, how to format properly for submissions. Chapter 11 is another good example - It's Super Dooper Grid Time, explaining how to effectively use the powerful layout and database features built into Excel and Word.

From just the two chapters mentioned above here’s a sample of tips and tricks titles to give you an idea of the book’s layout and contents:

Chapter 6
What The Heck Is Outline Mode?
How Do I Create A Topic?
What’s A Subtopic?
How Do I Create A Table Of Contents?
How Does Indexing Work?
Cobbling Together A Screenplay

Chapter 11
Why Bother With Extra Worksheets?
Letting Excel Be A Database Of Sorts
PivotTable is Designed to Make Me Go Insane, Right?
What’s the Difference between a Table and a List?
So Then, How Does One Make a PivotTable?

Cons: The book is written in a wisecracking style. The promotional copy for the book refers to the writing style as something which is "uniquely entertaining." But the use of words such as "Hell" and "Cheap-Ass" as in “Where the Hell are My Margins” and “The Cheap-Ass Tour of Your Basic Excel Window" although certainly not offensive in the slightest these days, always seems unnecessary to me. Repeated use of this sort of language tends to lower the informality to a level I usually don't read, appreciate or enjoy. Too much of this kind of expressiveness in a somewhat advanced technical book is inappropriate. It seems to be a writing style much more appropriate to the Dummies books.

Pros: There are lots more tips, tricks and workarounds in the book's 15 chapters. It’s somewhat surprising the author didn't number the individual tips and tricks in order to give the marketing mavens some additional advertising hits ("More than 400 Tips!" or whatever the actual count is). There's nothing like a bit of 'wow' factor to grab attention. In any case, figuring that the 15 chapters each contain approximately 30 headings, each of which is populated with topic breakdowns similar to chapters 6 & 11 (as listed above), you really do get more than 400 tips in this book for your money.

If you figure that any one of these tips, some of them hard to find elsewhere, can save you time and money and make you look good at work, then the book is a good deal. I definitely found some information about both Word and Excel that I'm glad to know. Even if I need the information only rarely (and end up forgetting half of it) now that I've got the book on my shelf I can refer to it at any time. That's the nice thing about these kinds of reference books - they contain a lot of information, ready at hand, which could take hours to find online. Books are good. This one is worthwhile, but be prepared to work your way through that funky style.

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