LATEX - A Document Preparation System - User's Guide And Reference Manual

by Leslie Lamport

In this paper I will try to write about this book viewing it as a scientific paper and not examining its content (the Latex-software).

Leslie Lamport is a computer scientist well known for his contributions to concurrent computing, as well as for creating the LATEX typesetting system in 1985. He now works at the System Research Center of Digital Equipment Corporation. He received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Brandeis University.

This book, written by the original architect and implementer of LATEX, is both the user's guide and the reference manual for the software. The book begins with instructions for formatting simpler text, and progressively describes commands and techniques for handling larger and more complicated documents. A separate chapter explains how to deal with errors. An added appendix describes what is new and different in LATEX 2e.

Users new to LATEX will find here a book that has earned worldwide praise as a model for clear, concise, and practical documentation. For users who want an advanced guide to LATEX 2e and to more than 150 packages that can now be used as any site to provide additional features, the book advise them to a useful companion 'The LATEX Companion' by Goossens, Mittelbach, and Samarin.

The book is structured in:
- a very detailed table of contents,
- a list of tables,
- a list of figures,
- a preface written also by Leslie Lamport,
- chapter 1-8 and ,
- appendix A-E,
- bibliography,
- a very, very detailed Index.

The Preface writes about the contents of the book, the enhacements that were made to the LATEX 2.09 as well as some new ones. All Authors of LATEX 2e and all people who contributed to the realize of this book are enumerated. Also here special thanks are expressed for Donald Knuth who created TEX, the program on which LATEX is based on.

Chapter one - 'Getting Aquainted' explains what LATEX is, gives us a brief history of the program, analyses the compatibility with other versions and with different computer systems. This chapter is also very important as a guide for how to read this book. We find here a brief résumé of all remaining chapters. I found also interesting and funny the paragraph about the 'game of the name' - the history and pronounciation of the name LATEX.
The most important paragraphs of the first chapter and, I think, of the whole book for understanding how LATEX works are 1.5 and 1.6. Here we find out which are the differences between a WYSIWYG -program, one that is based on visual design, and a logical design program as LATEX. The sentences
are stated right from the beginning, something that the reader always have to keep in mind.

Chapter two - 'Getting started' - explains what the user should know to handle most simple documents and to read the rest of the book. Section 2.5 contains a summary 'to refresh your memory' of everything in the chapter, it serves as a short reference manual.

Chapter three - 'Carrying on' - describes logical structures for handling a variety of formatting problems. For example : how to define our own commands and environements.

Chapter four - 'Moving information arround' - contains features especially useful for large documents, including automatic cross-referencing and commands for splitting a large file into smaller pieces. Section 4.7 discusses sending your document electronically.

Chapter five - 'Other document classes' - is about making books, slides, and letters.

Chapter six - 'Designing it yourself' - as difference to the preceding chapters which describe the logical structure of LATEX-documents, this chapter describes the visual formatting of the text.

Chapter seven - 'Pictures and colours' discusses pictures - drawing them ourselves and inserting ones prepared with other programs - and colour.

Chapter eight -'Errors' explains how to deal with errors. This is where we should look when LATEX prints an error message that we don't understand. It was very often that I missed such a chapter during my experience with other programs and their user guides or reference manuals.

Appendix A - describes how to use the MakeIndex program to make an index.

Appendix B - describes how to make a bibligraphic database fo use with BIBTEX, a separate program that provides an automatic bibliography feature for LATEX.

Appendix C - is a reference manual that compactly describes all LATEX's features, including many advanced ones not described in the main text. This appendix is a convenient opportunity to refresh our memory of the way something is working.

Appendix D - describes the differences between the current version of LATEX and the original version, LATEX 2.09.

Appendix E - is for the reader who know TEX, the program on which LATEX is built.

The Index - is also a very usefull, probably the section we most make use of using the program .

Examining this book after reading papers about how to write a scientific paper, I can say that questions like:
- Why was it done?
- How was it done?
- What was learned from it?
were all answered and that it is written in correct IMRAD format (Introduction - Materials and Methods - Results - Discussion)
The basic language of the book makes it easy to be read.

To put into words my opinion about this book as a manual or as a companion using LATEX I would recommend it to any friend as a hint.

Alexandra Pascal 12/08/97