Whether you think Excel Annoyances, written by Curtis Frye and published by O’Reilly, is wonderful or terrible will ultimately depend on one thing – does it resolve your specific issue? Essentially, it’s a ‘hints and tips’ book for using (not programming) Excel. It’s ‘angle’ is that each tip is first presented as a problem, such as “I’m so tired of entering regular sequences of data into cells. I mean, typing 1 in cell A1, then 2 in cell A2, then 3 in cell A3, then 4 in cell A4… up to 100 or 200. This isn’t a good use of my time! Isn’t there some way to extend a data series automatically so that I don’t get carpal tunnel typing row headings?”, followed by an explanation of the Excel feature that solves the problem (the Fill Handle and/or Data > Series dialog).
At 226 pages, the book is fairly easy to read through and most of the annoyances are probably relevant to most people, so you’ve either encountered them already, or are likely to in the next few years (depending on how much you use Excel). I hope, though, you’re more likely to think positively about them as features of Excel (“Great, I can zoom my worksheet in/out”) rather than the negative tone used in this book (“Why can’t I see all my data?/Why is the font too small?”).
Most of the explanations are actually quite good (and accurate), though very specific to the problem and often without any ‘background’ information. I quickly tired of the whining tone used to describe each problem (e.g. “I’ll be sacked if I don’t get this chart right before the presentation”) and the jocular nature of some of the answers (e.g. “Do x, y and z and your job is safe!”). After answering questions in the newsgroups for eight years, I was surprised that I didn’t recognise many of the annoyances. I’ve no idea whether they’re all genuine, but I frequently got the impression that the ‘problem’ was invented to introduce another tip (e.g. “My boss told me to make a pivot table out of the data, but I don’t know how…”).
I couldn’t work out who the book was targetted to – was it the Excel beginner, or someone who knows VBA (and by implication knows Excel well)? For example, page 8 includes the useful beginner tips of using Alt+Enter to put a line-break in a cell and Ctrl+Z to undo AutoCorrect changes, but page 10 includes a code snippet (from Dave Hawley) for the obscure problem of fixing up the default formatting you get when copying a table from Word and pasting it into Excel 97, with a comment of “select the list and run this macro to clean up your data”!
The index is pretty good, but I don’t think it would ever be used; the format of the book is such that if you had a problem, you’d look to see if it was mentioned in the Table of Contents, rather than scan the index. A the answer/tip given for each problem is so specific, if your problem isn’t in the TOC, it’s unlikely that an answer to a different problem is going to help you much.
[The following paragraph was changed from the original text, at the request of Dave Hawley]
One aspect of this book that I found somewhat annoying was the recommendations for the reader to purchase expensive addins to solve some of the annoyances. That’s not a problem in itself (assuming the addins prove useful), but the recommendations are heavily skewed towards the addins sold by OzGrid.com (Dave Hawley’s site), rather than the many free alternatives that could probably found on the ‘net with a little more research (and perhaps bundled into a free download). For example, the book fails to mention the three (free) addins most commonly recommended in the newsgroups – Bill Manville’s FindLink, Rob Bovey’s Chart Labeller and Jan Karel Pieterse’s Name Manager – even though the book contains annoyances that they’d easily resolve.
Bottom line: Don’t buy this book online. Have a good look through it and see if the annoyances ring true and check that you can stand the writing style. If so, you’ll love this book. If not, you’ll hate it.