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I am relatively new to TeX/LaTeX and so far learnt all about it using online documentation or question-and-answer websites like this one.

Should I consider buying a LaTeX guide book though? What would be your advices for doing so?

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Not perhaps an answer, but I'd say what you do need is some form of structured learning, which is perhaps most conveniently-obtained from a book. You can certainly pick up a lot from focussed questions and online docs, but often people then miss key 'overview' concepts. –  Joseph Wright May 1 '13 at 10:46
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@JosephWright That seems like the centerpiece of a nice answer. –  lockstep May 1 '13 at 11:04
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About the duplicates I am more looking for an answer of 'why', then I will start looking for 'what' to buy ;) Joseph, I understand your answer as for the 'overview' concepts, as it was was developed in one response below, answer on the web are often very specialized. So maybe I should rephrase my question into: "in which cases do you prefer back to your good old book rather than online?" –  vrleboss May 1 '13 at 11:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 27 down vote accepted

My perspective only

  • There are some online tutorials floating around with bad LaTeX practices which are contagious (exceptions exist). To follow good practices and understand the TeX/LaTeX behaviour always buy and read a good book(table of contents and preview/review may help to choose one) by peers/developers.

  • Also one should buy a TeX/LaTeX books as a token of gratitude to the TeX/LaTeX development community and encourage/support future TeX related developments like LaTeX3 etc.. It is one of many voluntary gestures to give back to community from which we have benefited a lot. Book reading is a one on one rendezvous with authors at your timelines.

  • For example, Frank Mittelbach's answer to How are (La)TeX projects financed? and TeX related developments like LaTeX3 are partly funded by book author's royalties. Marc Van Dongen's book is the latest addition to the LaTeX books.

  • Lastly i agree with Mario S. E and Bugbusters that there is no need to buy a book incase you don't want to. I would suggest free lshort for being best popular multilingual introduction OR ltxprimer-1.0 for it's crisp introduction and excellent showcase of LaTeX typesetting quality.

  • Bottom line: To become a contributing part of the TeX community one might atleast buy a TeX/LaTeX book or become a member and donate.

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+1 for suggesting/recommending buying books as a way to "give back". book reviews in tugboat‌​, unlike the "regular" contents, are open immediately upon completion, not restricted for a year to current tug members, so some opinions can be found there. –  barbara beeton May 1 '13 at 21:07
    
I like all answers, I think they are all very helpful for that matter: they convinced me to go to my bookstore :) However, I think I like this one the best, because one doesn't always keep in mind that buying a book is also a way for the community to carry on, developing and improving. "give back" as barbara put it :) –  vrleboss May 2 '13 at 12:35

I don't think you need to buy a book, but you could take a look here for recommended ones:

What is the best book to start learning LaTeX?

As for your questions of "why", I would say that you need a starting book because learning by yourself can be a very slow process (since the TeX world is so big and so full of commands... which, btw, makes it awesome!).

To speed up the learning curve and in order to avoid bad coding practices (take a look here), I would recommend you start with a book and some of its basic examples. As with anything, practice makes perfection.

Furthermore --and I can express this based on my own experience-- you couldn't possibly have found a better supporting community than this one. Not only everyone here has a natural tendency to be helpful and kind, but also useful and concise. If you ever have a question, I can guarantee you someone around here has an answer.

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Not a single source but, rather, a combination of several sources will help you become more proficient in LaTeX:

  1. A reference/introduction that provides an overview of what LaTeX can be used for and establishes general good practice; ideally, your first contact to LaTeX.
  2. Manuals of useful packages (e.g. geometry, enumitem).
  3. A selection of good tutorials on more advanced topics.
  4. TeX.SE for very specific questions that you can't find an answer to.

Regarding 1., although numerous references/introductions to TeX and friends are available on the Internet,

  • they may miss key concepts, as Joseph Wright wrote in a comment, or (the other extreme) be overreaching in terms of contents (e.g. the LaTeX wikibook),
  • they may not be well organised,
  • they may fail to teach you good practice (e.g. eschewing eqnarray)
  • their digital format makes them unsuitable, IMO, to prolonged reading and easy leafing through.

For those reasons, I favour using a physical book as a reference. I would personally recommend Marc van Dongen's LaTeX & Friends for a structured and pedestrian introduction to LaTeX.

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+1 for Marc's book! I have been reading it these days, after I won the lucky draw. –  kan May 2 '13 at 5:16

No need to buy any book. Just read the free ones available on the internet. If you have any problem, just post here to get the solution.

If you are also interested in learning plain TeX, you can read the free source code directly.

The form of structured learning can also be available from free books so it has nothing to do with whether the books are commercial or not. It is about the author's way of thinking.

For newbies, I recommend you to read some free great tutorials from Dr. Nicola Talbot here. Disclaimer: I was not paid to promote these but they are really great tutorials.

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I just bought LaTeX and Friends by Marc van Dongen as general reference material. The reason I bought it is twofold - 1) its a phenomenal book to loan to someone who is considering using LaTeX and isn't overly burdensome at the onset and builds in complexity nicely and 2) I anticipate having to go long stretches without using LaTeX and when I return to it, I would want a similar refresher to quickly get back up to speed.

I enjoy the book and it is the only one that I have purchased with no plans to buy another.

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