As I most often am not able even to ask the right question, much lesser to understand answers, I have decided to read thoroughly Knuth's TeXbook. But on Appendix B--Control Sequences--I find reference to INITEX, no longer used in Mac Distributions. What would you suggest to a student that thinks "it is necessary to study Chemistry in order to learn how to strain a good coffee", as my problem, as I understand now is to learn how to make Formats--as stated in Knuth's TeXbook--or whatever/however I name it now? Or, should you suggest another learning path? I see no good in asking ready solutions from experts whose language I am not yet able to understand!!!!!

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    INITEX is used in every distribution, which however hide it by providing already made formats. Don't start learning TeX from the appendices of the TeXbook. If you want to try Plain TeX just run tex from your shell (or pdftex if you want PDF output).
    – egreg
    Apr 12, 2012 at 20:15
  • I suggest you read the user guide for pdftex, available at ctan.org/tex-archive/systems/pdftex/manual, for information on how to set up the functional equivalent of initex for your system. In particular, do read section 3.6 (starting on p. 6) on the subject of "Creating format files".
    – Mico
    Apr 12, 2012 at 20:54

1 Answer 1


If you want to study TeX (as opposed to LaTeX, ConTeXt or other formats), then a book to read is TeX by Topic by Victor Eijkhout. You can buy a printed copy from Lulu. Or, if you wish to read from the screen, just call texdoc texbytopic in a modern distribution.

After you read and understand Victor, return to The TeX book and reread it.


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