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Which book (free or otherwise) was the most useful to you when you started learning LaTeX?

I am frequently asked this question by friends who want to learn LaTeX, and I recommend the book which got me started, The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2ε, but I feel that there might be better options around.

Also see LaTeX Introductions in languages other than English.

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If you'd put the Not So Short Introduction in an answer, I would have upvoted it - that's the one I always recommend to friends who ask me about learning LaTeX. – David Z Jul 26 '10 at 21:48
Upvote the question :) – Vivi Jul 27 '10 at 0:31
The Not so Short Introduction to LaTeX — actually a Brazilian Portuguese translation — was my first text on LaTeX. After that, I’ve read different texts, depending on what I want to do. – rberaldo Apr 13 '11 at 11:56
This website, of course. – Nicholas Hamilton May 6 '13 at 6:23
Finding the right symbols was a common problem for me at the beginning. See How to look up a symbol or identify a math symbol or character? for many solutions. – Martin Thoma Dec 10 '14 at 16:35

27 Answers 27

The Art of LaTeX is a 100-page intro to the subject with a lot of parallel "LaTeX-code : typeset-result" examples throughout the text.

A companion book, The LaTeX Math Companion, does the same with math in LaTeX.

They are filled with examples, well-formatted and cross-indexed. Written by Helin Gai, formerly of Duke University.

In practice the source I have found most useful and convenient is this LaTeX wikibook.

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Thanks for referencing my work =) I wrote both when I was at college and unfortunately the links broke after I graduated. I've updated The LaTeX Math Companion, which you can find here latex.versify-app.com/post/uqiz6t. I'm in the process of updating The Art of LaTeX. – haginile Jul 10 '14 at 6:50
Ever find time to finish The Art of LaTeX? – WillAdams Nov 16 '15 at 15:09
the link in the comment is dead; however, the links in the answer have been updated to valid links as of today (2015/11/16). – barbara beeton Nov 16 '15 at 15:44

I think that a great start is some of the above mentioned like: The Art of Problem Solving

But I think that a short introduction book to LaTeX is good and its goes by the name:

learning LaTeX, by David F. Griffiths and Desmond J. Higham. learning LaTeX

Very light on the beginner and quite comical throughout.

Another great one that is free and a online pdf version would be this:

A Simplified Introduction to LaTeX

Hope this helps any.

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I recommend Peter Flynn's Formatting Information to people -- it seems to have the right pace and style for many, being well-written and reasonably brisk.

Another (unusual) advantage is that it's more sympathetic towards humanities users than many introductions.

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You may want to merge the answer of vanden and yours … – Tobi May 13 '12 at 14:01

The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX that the question references is good, but when first learning LaTeX, I found Peter Flynn's Formatting information a very useful supplement.

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You may want to merge the answer of NormanGray and yours … – Tobi May 13 '12 at 14:01
I have just released a new edition of this (6.1) which is a complete re-edit and update, including a mobile-aware design. latex.silmaril.ie/formattinginformation – Peter Flynn Aug 8 '14 at 23:09

I've used LaTeX wikibook mostly. It's a really good resource when writing mark-up which is the easiest and fastest way to learn.

Unfortunately, proper maintenance of the LaTeX Wikibook has gone astray. Quite a lot of the provided information is a bit outdated. Since it is very hard for a beginner to judge the quality of advice, maybe it's better to choose another document for now.

When the information is once again up to date, this little note will disappear again.

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While the wikibook is fine, I would certainly not recommend it as the best resource. Some of the items down the list are certainly better. – yo' May 12 '15 at 12:18
@yo' Perhaps we as TeX.SX should make a concerted effort to improve it :) – Sean Allred May 12 '15 at 16:04
@yo' Which? I am teaching LaTeX for years, and I converged to starting with the Overleaf example, then - recommending LaTeX wikibooks for a general reference (I find it really good!). And I went though many, many books which I consider much worse (e.g. too technical, too focused on not to practical things, outdated practices with character encoding, etc). – Piotr Migdal Sep 9 '15 at 17:21
@PiotrMigdal The problem of the wikibook is that a lot of the information there is incorrect or obsolete. I would recommend, currently, the dickimaw books. – yo' Sep 9 '15 at 19:21

I found Art of Problem Solving Wiki page on LaTeX to be a good resource. (it's themed towards learning simple syntax for texing math, which was exactly what I wanted)

Additionally, there is the useful list of LaTeX symbols.

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Ethan Bloch's A Brief Introduction to LaTeX for Bard Students which can be found on his homepage contains exactly enough info to get started (I started texing with it within an hour).

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I keep parsing that as "for Bad Students" which makes me giggle. – vanden Jul 29 '10 at 15:26
I keep parsing that as "for Grad Students" which makes me sigh sadly. – einpoklum Dec 3 '11 at 18:04

Ah, I remember my first steps: somehow I stumbled upon LaTeX Primer which was not only a great introductory text, but was a real beauty typography-side.

Also, another great book which hasn't been mentioned here yet (and is definitely worth mentioning) is Digital Typography using LaTeX by Apostolos Syropoulos, Antonis Tsolomitis and Nick Sofroniou. I personally call this book "the book" along with Gratzer's "the book" ;)

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I second Digital Photography using LaTeX, as that was actually the book that got me into LaTeX by accident (I was reading up on typography for some reason, and stumbled upon that book). – Jóhann Nov 18 '10 at 16:48
@Johann: digital "photography"? did you mean "typography" instead?? – Vivi Jun 17 '11 at 11:55
@Vivi: oops, yes.. that was an interesting slip.. Is there a way to correct comments? – Jóhann Jun 17 '11 at 23:29
@johann: I think only if you do it within a certain (short) time. It doesn't really matter, I guess people will get what you say and if not they will see the comments below. It was a funny typo :) – Vivi Jun 18 '11 at 0:06
updated link for latex primer – barbara beeton Nov 14 '15 at 18:26

This introductory guide to LaTeX "Learning LaTeX by Doing" seems good. It not only teaches the basics but also provides practice (which most guides seem to lack), which makes it easier to learn more complicated things later after having some experience.

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From a first glance i can see a few obolete commands and practices. I wouldn recommend this to a beginner. – Johannes_B Aug 11 '15 at 17:11
Thanks. I thought it was nice to get started practically, but @Johannes_B I agree the guide is quite old(2005). – rambull2000 Aug 11 '15 at 17:14
Just checked for the biggest mistake a starter can do. Please check your documents, \` (double backslah) is *not* an alternative to a blank line in the input. An alternative would be \par`. – Johannes_B Aug 11 '15 at 18:47

We created slides for a LaTeX introduction for physics students, explaining the basics, mathematics, biblatex and some typographical issues.

The (german) slides can be found here: http://toolbox.pep-dortmund.de/files/archive/2014/latex.pdf

We are currently overworking them for our next course in October.

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Have a look at Stefan Kottwitz's LaTeX Beginner's Guide. It has lots of fully-explained examples and up-to-date tips.

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See: Publisher's book page

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This book is in my view the best for an actual newcomer to latex. It's up to date and explains only the necessary basics, and does so very clearly. If I were to teach a course for beginners to latex, I would use this. – Sverre May 14 '15 at 19:49
The book is obviuosly not written in LaTeX, which I find a bit self-contradictory. – Gaussler May 29 '15 at 6:40

Vincent Lozano - Tout ce que vous avez toujours voulu savoir sur LATEX sans jamais os er le demander

Unfortunately the author is French and, as such, writes in French.

But the book is clear, very clear. You can buy it, download it, and not only the PDF... the source LaTeX also.

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If you read French and work in humanities, I have written a beginner guide for humanities. I don't know if it's good, but many people told me it is. http://geekographie.maieul.net/Xe-LaTeX-applique-aux-sciences

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I learn a lot by setting tex.stackexchange.com as my homepage. So every time I launch the internet, I'm triggered to look at the questions on the site. This way I've really learned a lot about the possibility's of LaTeX, and also good practice :-)

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If this is your first document and you have no idea where to start I would recommend the section Learn in ShareLaTeX

Learn ShareLaTeX

They have series of videos with material to work with.

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If you are interested in a spanish version, you could use this one It's from the Intituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica

It has a plenty of options and comes with examples, codes and other tools additional to make some nice \TeX files.

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I think I would suggest the book by Marc van Dongen, Latex and Friends, which is very up-to-date. For example, it has a long chapter on TikZ.

On Springer's web site of this book several parts may be read on line or downloaded as PDF.

The book has also been reviewed on the TeX User Group site.

Marc himself has a web site for his book: Welcome to LaTeX and Friends. There's also a short film about the book.

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Also worth reading:

“LaTeX for Complete Novices”  by our highly esteemed TeX.SE member Nicola Talbot.

It’s available in the WWW on http://www.dickimaw-books.com/latex/novices/, where you can get 3 PDF versions (2 different paper formats and a version for screen viewing), a HTML version and the sources.

Very recently the A4 PDF version was also added to all big TeX distributions. Therefore you can open it, as well, in your PDF viewer with texdoc dickimaw-novices (it got this name to be unique among all other documents).

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I started learning LaTeX on this source and really recommend it. For Complete and uncomplete novices! – MattAllegro Nov 9 '14 at 17:31

I used The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2ε and still go back to it.

(I think that all the answers should be in the answers so that it's easier for people to compare them; also, what I said is true: it is the one that I use and continually go back to.)

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One problem I have with this book is that it seems (to me) to be very outdated. In the introductory chapter, it mentions that your .tex document "must be plain ASCII text", and it teaches you how to compile it via the traditional latex - dvi - ps route. I don't think many people do these things anymore. We write our documents with utf8 encoding, and we compile it with pdflatex, xelatex or lualatex. – Sverre May 12 '15 at 14:26
This is the my book: I recommend it to all. – Giacomo Alessandroni May 12 '15 at 15:48

For me, I find that The LateX Companion by Mittelbach and Gossens. It is very useful especially for troubleshooting purposes when compiling errors when the code gets more sophisticated. I am writing a book and subdivide into chapter by file. Chapter 1 one tex file. The master file controls the overall includes bibliography cover page,preface etc.

For one simple page really beginner stuff it is easy, you don't need this. It is when the error warnings become more abstract and you wonder what is happening and try to understand the error messages/warnings.

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I bought this and did use some stuff from it but I can't say I found it generally useful. I certainly don't think it is suitable for a beginner. – cfr Nov 14 '15 at 2:01

If you seriously mean your TeX/LaTeX future, the pointers in the other replies are definitely a good starting point, but already at an intermediate/advanced stage I strongly recommend the Donald Knuth's TeX book plus reading the guts of the $TEXMF/tex/latex/base/latex.ltx file, i.e., the LaTeX implementation. Takes an effort, but at least some knowledge of internal workings of plain TeX is in my opinion indispensable for typesetting non-trivial documents. One bumps to the limits LaTeX pretty quickly.

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The question is about starting to learn LaTeX, not to excel on it. – percusse Jul 25 '12 at 10:01
And many of us come to StackExchange sites looking for the slightly off-topic answers with few votes that take concepts one step further. Thanks @walkmanyi – semperos Feb 25 '13 at 3:15
if more commentary is wanted, texdoc source2e will display the pdf file with the base latex code along with explanatory text. – barbara beeton Nov 16 '15 at 15:51

I found this guide to be helpful when I began:

Getting to Grips with Latex

Short and very to the point with a lot of good examples.

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Grätzer's under-appreciated book is excellent, especially at showing you how to do things the "right" way:

(Earlier editions were called "Math into LaTeX"; it's not a sequel.) Especially if you're learning LaTeX for typesetting mathematics or related areas, this is a wonderful book — it includes, for example, chapters on the several AMS environments for multiline equation displays, making presentations with Beamer and other classes, and BibTeX — all things that you're likely to need at some point. Several samples from the book are available on CTAN (and you can also find online copies of the book of *cough* dubious legality).

[Edit: His first section, A Short Course in LaTeX, is available on CTAN and I recommend it even higher than lshort/not-so-short introduction: it's shorter, though of course less detailed. As quoted in the comment below, it's IMHO the ideal introduction to LaTeX for mathematics.]

Among actually free books, take a look at the LaTeX book on Wikibooks; its excellent quality may surprise you!

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To quote from the great list of LaTeX tips: “By "the book" I mean Gratzer's "Math into Latex". This is the authoritative reference on mathematical Latex. The majority of Latex books (and online materials) don't focus on mathematical typesetting, and while they may be useful for nonmathematical Latex, many offer bad, or out-dated, advice on mathematical Latex.” – ShreevatsaR Jul 29 '10 at 15:28
the latex wikibook may have been excellent at one time, but now it does not exemplify "best practices", and following its recommendations blindly may well result in problems later. the other recommendations here are much more reliable. – barbara beeton Nov 16 '15 at 14:37
This book is exactly what I'm looking for. Thank you so much. – CroCo Nov 16 '15 at 15:40
a 5th edition of gratzer's book is expected by the end of the year. (i haven't seen it yet, so i can't comment further.) – barbara beeton Nov 16 '15 at 16:44

I found Lamport's Latex: a document preparation system the best book for learning LaTeX

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I completely disagree. It contains very little information, all of which you can get with a free tutorial like lshort. – TH. Aug 21 '10 at 21:11
@TH:lamport's how i learned. at the time, i don't think there was much else to use, and it got me going, along with the tex book. you lot nowadays are spoilt for choice! – wasteofspace Jul 25 '12 at 11:19

The most important is to learn by doing. Take some small piece you want to typeset and make a most simple possible document. Then start to make it more compilicated. If you want figures/plots use TikZ.

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I've used LaTeX for four years and only now found out about TikZ. It would have been great to see a guide which would tell me "Use pdflatex, use these packages, start considering doing graphics in latex and TikZ you must master. – Dima Jul 29 '10 at 16:07
Couldn't agree more. You don't need a book to learn LaTeX, just read the introduction of the LaTeX wikibook and write away! You will encounter the need to learn more as your document progresses. Keep referring to the LaTex wikibook and this site as needed. – levesque Jul 29 '10 at 20:09
I would try to find, then study the Latex source of a well-prepared document. – Emre Apr 6 '11 at 23:07
I agree that learning by doing is important, but you need to start somehow, and in this sense books are important, even if a very short introduction. Latex is very difficult at the beginning, and even installing it takes a lot of work. – Vivi Jun 5 '11 at 10:13
I wouldn't mention TikZ to a beginner. Good grief! Learning LaTeX is quite enough to deal with at one time. – cfr Nov 14 '15 at 2:03

I found Kopka and Daly's Guide to LaTeX to be very helpful. It starts with the basics of what a LaTeX document is, how it's laid out, what components it can and should have, etc. and then moves on to cover technics for drawing and including figures, creating new commands and environments, and more advanced customization in case you ever need it.

Most important to me were the many examples scattered throughout, so that if you have some idea of what you're trying to do you usually don't have read an entire section but just flip through until you find an appropriate example and then try something similar.

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This was my only resource for a while and my primary resource for a long time after that. (I got The LaTeX Companion later but never found it terribly helpful except on a couple of specific things.) Kopka and Daly I found really clear and straightforward to begin with, and a useful pointer to further possibilities later on. I'd definitely recommend it. – cfr Nov 14 '15 at 2:07
kopka & daly is not only intelligible and a good guide for a beginner, it is an excellent and functional reference for more experienced users. – barbara beeton Nov 16 '15 at 14:39

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