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Keywords: Excel, VBA, spreadsheets, Office
Title: Excel Hacks, 2e
Author: David and Raina Hawley
Verdict: A good little book to have around
Spreadsheets are, by their nature, extremely powerful and flexible tools. Not only do they make it easy to play with data, over the years they have become complete development platforms that form the heart of countless business applications. Microsoft's Excel can claim a huge part of the credit (or blame), for this state of affairs. Excel is powerful, easy to use and incredibly popular with user and super-users. Even given this popularity, it's also true that the majority of users hardly scratch the surface of Excel's functionality. Which is why a book like 'Excel Hacks' is an appealing prospect.
The promise of Excel Hacks is that it provides a set of tried and tested snippets, work-arounds and all-round good things to help the Excel user get more out of it. Each 'hack' is a largely self-contained piece, with an explanation of the problem or issue, details of the hack itself and then some discussion on how to build on the hack or what it reveals about Excel in general. Obviously not all of the hacks work with all of the different versions of Excel, so each hack is also tagged with a version. In some cases the hack includes version specific instructions, particularly for Excel 2007. The good news is that a very high percentage of the content is applicable across the majority of versions (or at least from Excel 97 through to 2007).
The content is organised across eight chapters: reducing worksheet and workbook frustration; hacking built-in features; naming hacks; hacking pivot tables; charting hacks; hacking formulas and functions; macro hacks and finally cross-application hacks. It's a wide range of issues, some of them trivial, some of them not. For those who aren't afraid of dipping into some code there's a good deal of VBA involved at times (and perhaps yet to take the plunge into VBA should take a look at our own Excel VBA tutorial).
How useful you'll find this book depends on how much expertise you've got in the subject already. Chances are, however, that even hard core users are going to pick a few useful pointers amongst the 138 hacks listed. For those who don't eat, sleep and dream Excel, there's a lot more to be learned than for the gurus.
The only other thing to mention is that this is a great book to have around. It's not really a book that you read cover to cover, instead it's great for dipping into at those times when you're stuck, bored or looking to try something new.