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Learning LaTex

David F. Griffiths and Desmond J. Higham
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Allen Stenger
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This is a very good brief introduction to LaTeX, with a good balance between breadth and depth. Usually breadth wins; for each formatting area, the book only covers the few most common options and lets the rest go. This is a book only for mathematical LaTeX; it emphasizes mathematical typesetting and does not mention any other potential uses. It mentions but gives short shrift to AMS LaTeX, which I think is OK because most of those commands are more advanced.

I was skeptical that such a short book could really be comprehensive enough for everyday work, so I ran a test. I took my last five solutions to Monthly problems and checked which could have been typeset using the information in this book. These solutions run about a page on average, have a typical assortment of symbols from number theory and analysis, and some have bibliographies. I think they are typical of typesetting short papers, except that there are no sections. The book did very well on this test, and all could have been typeset well, although in some cases not exactly as I set them. The most conspicuous absence was never using \( and \) for in-line math; the book always uses $ and does not mention the alternative. (I prefer \( and \) because they have to be balanced and it’s easier to find errors in their usage, but I realize that nearly everyone uses $ instead.) The book uses the lower dots \ldots and centered dots \cdots, but not the plain “smart dots” \dots that figures out which kinds of dots to use based on context.

The book has a nice table of commonly-used symbols on p. 18, but it’s not easy to find; it’s not in the table of contents or the index and is in the middle of the book and not the back, so you just have to know to look on p. 18. Also, none of the entries is indexed, so if for example you want to typeset an integral, you can find the integral sign here but “integral” and “\int” are not in the index. The book makes heavy use of examples for teaching; often the construction you need is illustrated and not explained explicitly, so the best thing is to skim through the typeset examples until you find the structure you need.

Very Good Feature: fairly thorough coverage of beamer (viewgraph) and poster classes.

The book recommends two older books as your next LaTeX books, which I think is unfortunate (they are Lamport’s LaTeX: A Document Preparation System (Addison-Wesley, 1994) and Mittelbach & Goossens’s The LaTeX Companion (Addison-Wesley, 2004)). A much better choice is Gräzter’s up-to-date 2016 More Math Into LaTeX, 5th edition.

Grätzer’s Practical LaTeX is about twice the length of the present work and straddles it, having a lighting introduction in the first 30 pages that does not go as far, with the rest of the book going much farther than the present book. For the most part Grätzer is deeper and adds a lot of the less-common formatting commands. It’s a good alternative to the present book, but is not as concise and is harder to follow.

Allen Stenger is a math hobbyist and retired software developer. He is an editor of the Missouri Journal of Mathematical Sciences. His personal web page is His mathematical interests are number theory and classical analysis.