Absolute Beginner's Guide to LaTeX
on PCLinuxOS: Part Two

By David Pardue (kalwisti)

Editor's Note: Last month, David presented you with Part One of the Absolute Beginner's Guide to LaTeX on PCLinuxOS. This month, he provides a list of resources, in different categories, that you might find helpful in continuing to build on the foundation he laid last month. – Paul Arnote, PCLinuxOS Magazine Chief Editor.

Suggested Reading

If you are interested in further exploring LaTeX, this mini-bibliography contains approximately 20 resources that were helpful to me as I began learning it; I hope you will find some of them useful, too. The bibliography is organized as follows: Section 1. Overviews / General Introductions; 2. Tutorials / Manuals; 3. Commercially Published Books; 4. Reference; 5. Internet Resources; and 6. Miscellaneous / Curiosity.

We are fortunate that there is a wealth of excellent material on LaTeX, both on the Web and in published books. TeX gurus (known as "TeXperts") not only enjoy using LaTeX, but also writing about it. All of the works have their virtues, but if I were forced to pare the list down to the barest bones, the ones I have relied on most are: Oetiker's The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX (2008), Griffiths' and Higham's book Learning LaTeX (1997), Flynn's Formatting Information (2005) and the online PracTeX Journal.

1. Overviews / General Introductions

Cottrell, Allin. "Word Processors: Stupid and Inefficient.''

Online polemic in favor of TeX. The author presents a strong case for preparing ASCII files with a text editor and typesetting them with LaTeX rather than a WYSIWYG word processor.

Flom, Peter et al. "What Is TeX?'' Comp. David Walden. PracTeX Journal 2005.3.

A collection of one-page descriptions of LaTeX, written by 7 contributors for a nontechnical audience.

Flynn, Peter. "The LaTeX Brochure.''

A promotional four-page brochure that provides a quick overview of LaTeX.

2. Tutorials / Manuals

Oetiker, Tobias. The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX, or, LaTeX 2e in 141 Minutes. Ver. 4.26. 25 Sept. 2008. <http://bit.ly/DtFwX>.

An introduction to LaTeX which has become a classic. The numerous translations attest to its popularity; Oetiker's guide is also available in Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian (!), Persian, Polish, Portuguese (and Brazilian Portuguese), Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Ukrainian. Any of these can be downloaded from CTAN's website:

O'Malley, Kevin. "LaTeX: It's Not Just for Academia." (Online article)

Pt. 1. 3 Feb. 2004. <http://bit.ly/4jHXfl>.

Pt. 2. 5 Mar. 2004. <http://bit.ly/kEdoz>.

A quick overview of LaTeX which also shows how it can be used to accomplish some common writing tasks. Since O'Malley is a Mac developer, a portion of Part 1 covers the various versions of LaTeX available for Mac OS X at the time—this can be skipped.

Roberts, Andrew. "Getting to Grips with LaTeX.'' [2004?]

A series of 12 brief online tutorials written by a doctoral student in computer science. Topics covered include document structure, tables, bibliographies and importing images.

Flynn, Peter. Formatting Information: A Beginner's Introduction to Typesetting with LaTeX. Ver. 3.6. Mar. 2005.

Good resource, with very current information. However, it is slightly more technical than some of the other beginner's guides. (Flynn has the advantage of also having worked as a real printer/pressman).

Talbot, Nicola. LaTeX for Complete Novices. Ver. 1.3. 15 Jan. 2008.

A useful, well-organized and thorough guide. Talbot is a mathematician and computer scientist who has taught LaTeX courses at the university level. In addition, she is the author of several add-on LaTeX packages.

The PracTeX Journal. <http://www.tug.org/pracjourn/>.

Has some excellent articles (downloadable free of charge) which target new LaTeX users.

"LaTeX." Wikibooks. <http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX>.

If you like an online Wiki-type format, this one has thorough coverage of the basics and some intermediate topics. It includes information from Oetiker's guide as well as excerpts from some of Flynn's publications. The Wiki can also be downloaded as a PDF file.

3. Commercially Published Books

(Before spending any money for these titles, try looking for them at your local public or college / university library, so you can evaluate them. LaTeX books are for a small, specialized audience and as a result, tend to be a bit pricey).

Griffiths, David and Desmond Higham. Learning LaTeX. Philadelphia: SIAM, 1997. 84 p. $26 US (retail). ISBN 0898713838.

Very nice—concise, accessible and with humorous examples. Also shows LaTeX source code and the typeset output placed side by side. This is the first LaTeX book I purchased. If you can only afford one printed book to begin with, this is the one I would recommend. Covers approximately 90% of the commands you will use in everyday work, and includes chapters on typesetting math/equations.

Lamport, Leslie. LaTeX: A Document Preparation System: User's Guide and Reference Manual. 2nd ed. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1994. 272 p. $50 US (retail). ISBN 0201529831.

Generally well written and well organized, Lamport also incorporates some humorous examples (often involving gnus and occasionally gnats). In a 2001 interview, Lamport commented that he probably made more money by giving the LaTeX software away and selling the book than he would have by trying to sell the software.

Grätzer, George. First Steps in LaTeX. Boston: Birkhäuser; New York: Springer-Verlag, 1999. $44.95 (retail). ISBN 0817641327

Primarily has a math focus to help you quickly learn how to typeset your first article containing mathematical formulas. Also introduces AMS-LaTeX, a special set of LaTeX packages for math. For more in-depth coverage (and a better value overall), you might consider the author's More Math into LaTeX (4th ed., 2007, $49.95), which includes a 60-page "Short Course." The Short Course's content, however, is not identical to First Steps in LaTeX.

Kopka, Helmut and Patrick W. Daly. Guide to LaTeX. 4th ed. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2003. 624 p. $60 US (retail). ISBN 0321173856.

I would recommend this as more of an "intermediate" title. Nicely done and authoritative. This is a better choice than Mittelbach and Goossens' The LaTeX Companion (2nd ed., 2004, $69.99), which would be too overwhelming for novices—although it is the definitive guide for descriptions of LaTeX extension packages and LaTeX programming.

There are two other books in the Companion series geared towards intermediate users or above: Goossens' The LaTeX Graphics Companion (2nd ed., 2008, $64.99) and his The LaTeX Web Companion: Integrating TeX, HTML and XML (1999, $49.99). I can recommend the Graphics Companion, which covers methods of embedding graphic objects in LaTeX documents and provides a synopsis of the various add-on packages available. However, the Web Companion can be skipped, as it has become increasingly outdated since its publication in 1999.

4. Reference

Chang, Winston. "LaTeX Cheat Sheet." <http://bit.ly/P84wl>.

A two-page quick reference summarizing basic LaTeX commands. Handy to print out and keep beside your desk.

Pakin, Scott. "The Comprehensive LaTeX Symbol List." 3 Jan. 2008.

An organized list of over 4900 symbols available to LaTeX users. If you need to know how to produce a Euro symbol, a box with a checkmark, a double dagger or a small telephone icon, you will find it here.

5. Internet Resources

Usenet newsgroup: comp.text.tex

LaTeX Community Forum. <http://www.latex-community.org>. (Similar to a Linux user forum.)

The TeX Showcase. Ed. Gerben Wierda.

Stunning examples of what TeXperts can typeset with TeX and its related programs. Includes graphics (an ornamental CD cover, beer bottle label, baseball scorecard), math, languages of the world (Biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Tibetan) and general typesetting.

6. Miscellaneous / Curiosity

TUG (TeX Users Group) Interview Corner.

Has brief interviews with a variety of people involved with TeX and LaTeX. (Also has interesting information about their lives and careers independent of TeX). This material has recently been published by TUG in book form as TeX People: Interviews from the World of TeX (Eds. Karl Berry and David Walden, 2009, $36.00).