In praise of TeX by Topic

I’ve been hard at work on various LaTeX3 questions (more on which in another post), and little things about TeX come up all of the time. These are often rather technical, and so what I need is a good reference work which includes all of the detail. Now, The TeXbook is an obvious place to look, but it’s not available electronically. I do a lot of my coding when on the move (on the train, at work, various places around the house), and so carrying a book about is not always so easy. There’s also a lot more to The TeXbook than just a reference work, which doesn’t always make it quite so easy to quickly look up a particular primitive.

On the other hand, TeX by Topic is available electronically (and for free), and is a focussed reference work. As well as being able to download it from the author’s website,  it’s probably installed with your TeX system:

texdoc texbytopic

at the command line should open it up. I always find the content in TeX by Topic to be excellent: enough to help me out, but not too much that I get lost. For a TeX programmer, I think there is no better resource for those fiddly questions. Being available for free is of course an added bonus, although I would strongly encourage making a contribution to the author (I certainly have). For those people who want a printed copy, TeX by Topic is out of print but is available from Lulu. So all round it’s an excellent choice: great work!

3 thoughts on “In praise of TeX by Topic

  1. No matter where our hearts lie in TeX (plain, LaTeX, ConTeXt… Lollipop?), it seems we all agree on _TeX by Topic_. Two minutes before reading your post, I was recommending it to somebody. It is a masterpiece indeed, which answers your questions and widens your horizon. Let’s get lyrical: a soothing presence that comforts you when TeX stubbornly refuses to behave the way you think it should. If I ever came of age as a TeX programmer, Victor Eijkhout was my master!

    So many thanks Joseph for bringing it again in the public eye. If there must be only one…

  2. As I’m sure you know, texbook.tex is available from CTAN et al. Personally, I search it all the time. Occasionally there is even a joke or extra info in the source only :).

  3. Hello Karl,

    Very true, of course. I just find the source for The TeXBook a bit hard to read through (being used to .dtx mark up, I guess). As I say, there is also a lot else there, which is good to read through as a whole but perhaps not so ideal in a reference work.

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