Top critical review
7 people found this helpful
extremely poor excuse for an expository book
on December 30, 2005
I do all my serious scientific work with Mathematica. However most of my colleagues use Excel for simple data presentation and analysis, so I've recently started using Excel to be able to converse with them.
Since most of the fundamental things that one would do with Excel are relatively straightforward, Excel's built-in help capability is quite adequate as a learning resource. However, as with any product, there are useful tricks that go beyond the scope of vendor supplied documentation. Exposing such tricks is where good books come in, as they can guide the user to a higher level of expertise. Because most of the reviews of Walkenbach's book were favorable, I thought the book would be a good place to get some deeper insights into Excel. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Indeed, the book contains a wealth of useful examples, and for that reason, I gave it two stars. The major problem, however, is that the book does a poor (and often non-existent) job of explaining why the examples work.
A case in point is the example on page 402 which shows how to graph a function without populating values in a worksheet. There is a recipe in the text for accomplishing the task. However, the recipe is so sketchy that I don't believe anyone would be able to produce a graph by just reading the text.
Fortunately, there is a working example on the CD that comes with the book. And more fortunately, the pattern can be easily modified to produce graphs of other functions. This is all very good! However, Walkenbach does not explain why the example works. Moreover, he makes no attempt to explain the obscure functions (OFFSET, SUBSTITUTE, EVALUATE) which the example is based on. Thus, all the reader is left with is a template for accomplishing a task. If he keeps the template around, he'll have something useful. But if he's asked to develop the template on his own, from material presented in the book, he will not be able to do so.
The graphing example is not an isolated case in the book. Time and time again I found myself frustrated with poor explanations throughout the book -- which do not provide an understanding of why things work.
Understanding why things work is extremely important because without such an understanding it is impossible to devise solutions to situations that one has not encountered before. Cookbook recipes are useful for producing tasty meals, but one cannot become a master chef without understanding the principles of cooking. The same goes for expository books. This book is at best a reasonable cookbook, but a very poor expository work.