[texhax] Ref. Man. Bausum [was tabbing]

Barbara Beeton bnb at ams.org
Thu Sep 14 15:36:57 CEST 2006

re uwe's question regarding some tex references:

    At 02:27 14.09.06, Karl Berry wrote:
    >        *** TeX Reference Manual by David Bausum ***
    >Does it go far beyond TeX for the Impatient and (especially) TeX by Topic?
    >I kind of had the impression they were more or less in the same space.

    This was my question! More precisely:

    First, two examples for refuting the claim on the back cover
    of my copy of The TeXbook -- that it were a "Complete User's Guide ..."

    1. The TeXbook's description of \accent makes me guess
    an aligning macro for which \accent is a hard-wired shorthand
    -- but I can't decide from the TeXbook whether my guess is correct.

the index to the texbook tells you at a glance
that \accent is a primitive, not a (macro-based)
hard-wired shorthand.  look up \accent in the
index -- it's preceded by an *.  quote from the
text at the top of the index:

  Control sequence names that are preceded by an
  asterisk (*) in this index are primitives of TeX;
  i.e., they are built in.  It may be dangerous to
  redefine them.

"may be" should generally be considered an
understatement.  the fact that something is a
primitive also implies strongly that you can't
alter its behavior directly.

    2. Once I wondered what happens with an \insert box
    when the output routine doesn't print it -- my guess that it is
    emptied was wrong, David Kastrup told me better
    -- but I couldn't read this from the TeXbook.

i'd bet it's there, but it may be quite hard to
find, and may be there only by inference.

it does take some effort and rereading to learn
how to find and interpret things in the texbook.
this is not "natural" for a lot of people, which
is why other introductory books are valuable, and
in fact are usually preferable for beginners.

    I have had a look at TeX by Topic. To me it seems that it is
    just a sober extract from the TeXbook -- no jokes, no
    wide scattering of informations on how a command works --
    not telling anything that you can't read (with more effort)
    from the TeXbook. So, e.g., I couldn't find in TeX by Topic
    a more accurate answer to my above \accent question.

that surprises me.  however, ...
tex by topic is a reference book, pure and simple.
it organizes information so that everything on a
topic can be found in one place.  it is also quite
free of errors.

your characterization is accurate.

    W. Appelts German Book contains a (fairly) complete
    Syntax of TeX -- this may go beyond the TeXbook;
    but it has many other wide lacunas.

    I don't expect that TeX for the Impatient tries to be

    Now (as I should have told earlier)



       The TeX Reference Manual is the first comprehensive
       reference manual written by a programmer for programmers.

this is not true.  tex by topic appeared much earlier,
and is quite comprehensive.  since victor is teaching
computer science, i think that's close enough to being
a programmer as well.

and unfortunately, i found quite a few errors in bausum's
book when i looked through it; i no longer have a copy
to check, since the one i received was sent out for
review.  i don't like to knock a publication that was
written with good intentions, but i also believe that
unwary readers should be aware of inaccuracies that can
be misleading if you're depending on that as your only
or primary resource.

    Has anybody here checked this?

see above.
							-- bb

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