Review: Smashing WordPress, Beyond the Blog

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Smashing WordPress is a book written by Thord Daniel Hedengren, published by Wiley in partnership with Smashing Magazine, and all about WordPress development. And recently, I read and reviewed it.

Reviewed in 30 seconds: Smashing WordPress is not a book for advanced developers. It’s best for those who have perhaps modified a theme or two and are now interested in developing more advanced, non-blog websites with WordPress. If you typically like Smashing Magazine’s posts, you’ll like this book.

First of all, the book that I read was written for WordPress version 2.8. There may be an updated version of the book in the works, or on its way out, but I couldn’t find any evidence of that. Being a couple of point released back doesn’t effect much, although it does mean there is nothing in this book about Multisite or custom post types.

Hedengren takes a nice approach to the development how-to in the book, typically diving straight into code and explaining how to get from A to B. He does such a great job exploring things like action hooks and the anatomy of a theme, though, that it makes the initial chapters covering WordPress installation basics that much more mundane. The book would have been stronger without any of the chapters on the basics of WordPress.

Softer, slower beginning

But in a book the code is meant to be read. All the code should be split by line and indented.

The book begins with a mixed section called “The WordPress Essentials.” Rather than jumping straight into theme and website development, time is taken to go over installing WordPress, reviewing WordPress terms, and the WordPress loop. There is some good stuff in these chapters, particularly the chapter covering the loop, but then again the next section is called “Designing and Developing WordPress Themes.” I came out of these two sections thinking the second section would have made a better, stronger start to the book.

Would it be a bit ballsy to write a WordPress book without walking through the installation process? Maybe. But Smashing WordPress shines where it jumps straight into the sample code and applicational tutorials. The faster you can get into those parts, the better.

The words on the left page would often get uncomfortably close to the binding.

The physical book

The first thing I noticed was that Smashing is a full color, beautiful book. But the margins tend to push the content on half of the pages (the even ones) into the binding. I found myself holding the book apart wider just to get a good look at the words closest to the binding. Perhaps it’s minor, especially in a world with eBooks and Kindle versions available, but I read the physical book and after a few hours it got pretty annoying.

Although the book is full color front to back—and more expensive than other black and white alternatives, of course—the code displays without syntax highlighting. This seems like a real shame.

Syntax highlighting on the code would have been a nice touch in a full color book.

While I’m on the code display in the book, the single line CSS single line style is very annoying. I would argue that on live websites, whether CSS is broken into multiple lines or not is entirely up to the developer. After all, at that point it’s running and isn’t particularly meant for reading.

But in a book the code is meant to be read. All the code should be split by line and indented.

Plugin pet peeve

The “Essential WordPress Plugins” chapter above all is a bit frustrating to me. The chapter lists just over 70  Plugins as “essential”. Which would be fine, except over 70 Plugins are not essential.

Not. Essential.

The section should be renamed “recommended” or “possibly applicable” Plugins. There isn’t a WordPress site anywhere that should be running all of these Plugins, or even half of them. This is the one part of the book that felt most like a blog post—and I mean that in the not in a good way way. Typically a list of over 70 Plugins would be a link bait blog post. But a link bait blog post in a book doesn’t make any sense. In a book like this, the list came across as unnecessary filler.

Pages and pages of recommended Plugins seems a bit out of place in a development focused book like this.

In conclusion

Smashing is a book for new developers. There’s nothing strikingly new in it, and nothing is covered in much depth. Readers will be introduced to a number of different WordPress development concepts, and should be able to use the book as a springboard to further learning.

A good deal of it is both written and prepared like a blog post, long code snippets and all. But that’s okay. It’s a Smashing Magazine book, after all. It’s what I would expect.

As long as you approach the book as a broad introduction to beginning WordPress development, you’ll be just fine. But if you’re looking for something more in depth and more well written than a series of Smashing Magazine blog posts, keep looking.

WPCandy rated this 3 mints

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