Over the years, I've learned many programming languages (technically, HTML isn't one, but I'll ignore that technicality). The primary way I've learned them is with books, such as those by MS Press, Sams and even the Dummies series. Many programming books are bad; the Dummies books, particularly so. They tend to overly dumb down concepts to a point of being so vague that the message is lost.
But not this book.
The information in HTML4 Quick Reference is highly concentrated. It does start out so simply that a developer new to HTML is rightfully tempted to skip the first few chapters. Fortunately, the structure of the book allows one to do this. Outside of the absolute most basic things (The structure of HTML, links and images), each part (The book is divided in to parts & sections, not chapters) stands independently. Each part is, for lack of a better comparison, a step-by-step guide.
The only real "style" the code has is that each tag is placed on its own line. It lacks indenting, something that is quite necessary in a hierarchy-based language such as HTML. But this could be as much due to the books small form-factor as the authors' personal preference.
The book does feature a writing style for code, though. One of the most important things the Rays preach is writing tags in pairs, e.g.
and then filling in the attributes as opposed as right-to-left, top-to-bottom style that many other books take. They also make effective use of formatting their own sample code with bold to highlight additions.
At least one of the reviews before me claimed the color-reference to be worth the price of the book alone. While, admittedly, it is handy, it is slightly flawed. For one, it, as with all things printed, is printed with CMYK coloring. There is a disclaimer before the colors appear, but this point needs to be stressed: The colors on screen will not match the colors on the page. The second complaint I have with the color guide- The colors appear in numerical order: #000000, #000033, ..., #FFFFCC, #FFFFFF. It would be better to have sorted them by hue or luminosity, similar to Macromedia Dreamweaver's color palette. Although, admittedly, if you're doing work in a WYSIWYG editor, this book is not nearly as important as if you're developing in a text-editor.
As far as I'm concerned, the heart of this book lies in its appendices. In an organized fashion, it lists a majority of HTML 4 tags, their attributes, a description of each tag and attribute, their status within HTML (deprecated, which version of HTML they originated in, or what browser(s) support them exclusively).
Appendix B features the various symbols (&, ü, etc.), their numeric representation, the Mnemonic representation (& = & amp;) and a description of what each represents. It would have been nice if the list was divided into categories of some sort, instead of just listing them numerically like the colors, but the natural ordering within the ANSI/Unicode character spec provides for some degree of natural organization.
Appendix C is a brief list of CSS 1 properties and values. This appendix glosses over too much, but if what you need to know is contained within it, it's faster and easier then searching for the information elsewhere on the web. Of course, my edition of this book came out less then 2-years after CSS1 was formalized.