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I would like to purchase Donald Knuth's TeXbook, and I have noticed that there are two versions available. One is a spiral-bound edition, usually sold by itself. The other is a hard-cover edition, available both by itself or as part of a boxed set of five volumes (Knuth's Computers and Typesetting series). The price difference between the two is minimal, so I'm unsure which to purchase.

If anyone here owns one or both editions, perhaps they could answer at least some of the questions below, to help me make up my mind.

  1. Can the hard-cover edition stay open when placed on a surface (like many mathematics textbooks), or does it have to be propped open by the reader (like many hard-cover novels, which usually have very tight bindings)?

  2. What is the cover of the spiral-bound edition like? Does it stand up well to repeated handling?

  3. I have read reviews of the spiral-bound edition stating that the pages often fall out from the end of the book. Is this a serious problem?

  4. Are there any other considerations to bear in mind when making a choice between these two editions?

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I would also argue for the hardcover; in general spiral bound books are not of very good quality, and will be much easier to rip, lose pages from, etc. Years of textbook buying taught me to stay away from cheaper spiral bound editions at all costs (and if they're the same price, all the more reason to get the nicer one). –  Sam Whited Feb 26 '13 at 20:27
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FWIW, my 20yo blue spiral-bound texbook still has all its pages, but they're pretty grubby, and the bookmarking back cover is a bit tatty. The wire spiral is in OK shape. It will see me out. If there was price-parity back then, I would have bought the hard cover. –  Andrew Kepert Feb 26 '13 at 22:00
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at the bottom of don knuth's tex page there is a section "spiffy new printings". late in 2011, knuth updated the texbook sources to incorporate all corrections and suggestions, but only the hardcover has the updated text. even more problematic is the fact that it's identified as a printing, not an edition, so it is not possible to tell from most distributors which you would get. i've been led to believe that if you are a tug member ordering via the tug link, (continued ...) –  barbara beeton Feb 27 '13 at 20:13
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(... continued) and you explicitly request the 19th printing, but an older one is delivered, you can write to the publisher, state the circumstances of your case, and the problem will be resolved. (i don't have a guarantee in writing, but the claim was made in good faith. don't expect this service from amazon.) –  barbara beeton Feb 27 '13 at 20:16
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re spiral-bound, i have a copy of the first edition, with many handwritten notes; the back cover and last half-dozen pages are held on with a large paper clip -- but i keep it on the shelf next to my more usual working copy, also spiral bound (21st printing, 1992) which is basically devoid of notes. one of these days i'll get around to ordering a copy of the 2011 updated printing, hardbound only. but since ams mostly uses latex these days, i have more immediate need of latex manuals, to quote to misguided authors. –  barbara beeton Feb 27 '13 at 20:24

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Disclaimer! This answer contains pictures that may be shocking to book lovers. Reader discretion is advised.

I picked up a spiral-bound copy from the university library. Because it must have been handled by quite a lot of (probably careless) hands over the years, it is perhaps an extreme case, but it give some good indication as to whether the book (not its immortal contents!) stands the test of time. See below, from the 4th picture onwards.

The hardcover copy I have, on the other hand, is brand new. EDIT: Relevant information about that version (the 19th printing) can be found on the third picture below.

So, to answer your questions:

  1. The hardcover version has a pleasantly loose binding. I haven't used my copy yet and it already stays open when placed on a flat surface without any effort. See the second picture below.
  2. The spiral-bound copy I'm looking at is nice to handle but is in bad shape: the frontcover is ok but the backcover is almost torn apart from the spiral-binding coil and the latter has its guts showing at the bottom.
  3. As far as I know, it's not missing any pages, but the last few pages do tend to come apart because of the poor state of the spiral-binding coil.
  4. See Barbara Beeton's answer. I might update my answer later if I find glaring differences between the spiral-bound and hardcover versions.

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Shocking! The title is covered with a barcode, what a shame! –  topskip Mar 28 '13 at 15:13
    
@topskip That was not my doing; and you should have stayed away after reading my disclaimer :) –  Jubobs Mar 28 '13 at 15:14
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oh, this isn't so extreme. my very early (possibly first) printing is in even worse shape, and i'm the only one who has ever used it. (and i'm pretty careful with books.) the spiral binding does lie flat, but unless the holes are reinforced, they take a real beating with heavy use. as noted in an earlier comment, the back cover and several pages have actually separated, and are held on with a large peper clip. but since that copy is annotated, it hasn't been put out to pasture yet. –  barbara beeton Mar 28 '13 at 17:04
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@Jubobs -- turn to the back of the title page of the hardcover version. at the bottom left, the first number in that line should be the printing. if that is "19", you have the fully updated version. now, find knuth's cumulative errata list. in a tex live distribution, it's in doc/generic/knuth/errata/errata.pdf. look for the most recent collection; should be easy to identify. every item is dated and the page number specified. you should be able to find things not in the spiral-bound version; compare the hardcover, and report, please. –  barbara beeton Apr 3 '13 at 20:37
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@barbarabeeton It reads "Nineteenth Printing, February 2012"; see the 3rd picture from the top. It looks like they sent me the real deal! Thanks again for your help and for the link to the errata list. I will of course report any discrepancy I find between the two versions. –  Jubobs Apr 3 '13 at 22:11

at the bottom of don knuth's tex page there is a section "spiffy new printings". late in 2011, knuth updated the texbook sources to incorporate all corrections and suggestions, but only the hardcover has the updated text. even more problematic is the fact that it's identified as a printing, not an edition, so it is not possible to tell from most distributors which you would get.

i've been led to believe that if you are a tug member ordering via the tug link, and you explicitly request the 19th printing, but an older one is delivered, you can write to the publisher, state the circumstances of your case, and the problem will be resolved. (i don't have a guarantee in writing, but the claim was made in good faith. don't expect this service from amazon.)

the link to the pearson publishing group at the tug web site now indicates that one does not have to be a tug member to take advantage of a 30% discount on addison-wesley books about tex and friends. the procedure for ordering is described on the linked web page.

(feedback on whether the copy delivered really is the updated 19th printing would be welcome. in fact, @Jubobs has reported his success in a comment to his answer.)

if someone has two copies of the book with possibly different contents, differences can be identified by the presence or absence of errata entries as listed in don knuth's official errata lists. in tex live, these are combined into one pdf file, accessible with texdoc errata. the individual errata source files are available on ctan, but no pdf.

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I just ordered a copy at Pearson's online store. Unfortunately, the site does not allow you to leave a comment (e.g. for a special request) upon ordering something. I sent an email to their customer service to request the 19th printing. I'll let you know how that pans out. –  Jubobs Mar 25 '13 at 17:00
    
The following is on the way: ISBN: 9780201134483, Title: The TeXbook, 1/e by Donald E. Knuth, Format: paperback, now in the 33rd printing. –  Jubobs Mar 27 '13 at 9:40
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@Jubobs -- sorry, that won't be the updated version. only the hardcover has the updated text. –  barbara beeton Mar 27 '13 at 12:42
    
I'm sorry this is turning into a discussion. I may delete my comments and convert our exchange in a full-blown "answer" when I finally find a way to get the right book. Can you confirm that this is the book I should order? –  Jubobs Mar 27 '13 at 13:47
    
@Jubobs -- yes, c&t volume a (the texbook) is the correct one. it's really too bad it's still considered the "first edition", with no mention of corrections or updates. now, keep your fingers crossed, and good luck. –  barbara beeton Mar 27 '13 at 14:11

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