Reviewed: Woody Leonhard Teaches Microsoft Office 97

When I was younger, I used to think that computer book authors were geniuses (and perhaps, back then, they were). As time has gone by, however, and I've written books of my own, I've become more critical of other authors and usually find myself noting that the very topics I need to understand are not covered in books because the authors don't understand them either. It's gotten to the point where most computer books just aren't that good.

And then there's Woody Leonhard.

The first Windows book I ever received was Woody's incredible "Windows Programming for Mere Mortals." It covered Word Basic and Visual Basic 2.0 programming and even included a working version of Word for Windows 2.0 on a single floppy disk (think about that for a second). My first pass through this book, which occurred about year before I got my first Windows machine, was a defining moment: Here, finally, was a funny, readable, and yes, infinitely understandable book about a topic which, until that time, was best left to the programming elite. I read it cover to cover and then read it again. And it taught me a valuable lesson, not to mention the fact that it also taught me that understanding Windows at a technical level was a doable task: Just because the topic is dry doesn't mean the writing has to be. It's something I've tried to duplicate--poorly, perhaps--in my own books.

Over the years, I've followed Woody's writing in magazines and through his other excellent books, including the "Hacker's Guide to Word for Windows," the "Underground Guide" books (from Addison Wesley, I believe), the "Mother of All" books, and, most recently, the excellent "Annoyances" books from O'Reilly. I have two of these books, including one on Word 97 for Windows. The whole lot is highly recommended.

Last week, a copy of Woody's latest book, "Woody Leonhard Teaches Microsoft Office 97," arrived for review. The book, at a hefty 700 pages, is bargain priced at $20, and though it is clearly targeted at beginning and intermediate readers, I believe that each and every Office 97 user out there--regardless of your perceived skill level--needs to read this book.

Yes, I read it almost completely in one sitting. I say "almost" because I had to get up and start playing with Office so I could take advantage of the numerous tips and tricks described in this book. Woody knows more about Office than anyone I know, more than most people on the Office team, I suspect, and, dare I say it, more than you (and I don't mean that in an offensive way). Woody is gifted with a rare combination of expertise and the ability to share it with his readers. His down-to-earth writing style draws you in while his criticisms of the products--and the solutions to these problems--come across not as Microsoft bashing but rather as honest insights into the pros and cons of this pig of an Office suite.

Almost half of the book covers Microsoft Word and that makes sense: Word is, by far, the most popular Office product and the one readers will likely use on a daily basis. Woody's been working with Word since the DOS version and it shows. The man is simply a master of the product and you will want to follow along as he tweaks the beast into something far more usable than what Redmond planted on your hard drive. Subsequent chapters cover Outlook 98 (not 97, bravo!), Excel, and PowerPoint. Woody's coverage of Outlook 98 and the advice he gives about setting it up are, naturally, excellent.

The only thing that isn't really covered in this book is the programmability features in Office, which are generally implemented with Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). That's understandable, given the target audience for the book, however, and Woody's "Word 97 Annoyances" is a more technical (yet still highly readable) book that does cover this if you're interested. I don't have any serious complaints about this book at all.

It should be obvious that I'm a huge fan of this book and its author, so allow me to make a sweeping recommendation: You need this book. It's that simple. In a day and age where most books this size cost $50-60, it's easy to swallow the cost. But the insight and expertise you will develop from reading this book is inestimable. If you're an Office 97 user, it's likely that you own at least one book about the suite. Chances are, it's not nearly as good as this one.

--

"Woody Leonhard Teaches Microsoft Office 97"
By Woody Leonhard
Que, 1998
ISBN 0-7897-1705-

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