Book Review: Peter Gasston’s The Modern Web

Book: The Modern Web

tl;dr: Peter Gasston’s The Modern Web is a matter-of-fact compendium of essentially all of the relevant current (and some future) front-end web technologies. It’s hard to know something about everything, and it’s that fact that makes this book useful for designers and developers of all skill levels.

Peter Gasston knows a lot of stuff. In fact, he’s one of the three people I consider to be walking front-end encyclopedias. And that certainly shows in his newest book for No Starch Press.

In The Modern Web, Peter takes the role of a tour guide, or perhaps a weird variant of Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future, showing us pretty much all the front-end tech that’s worth knowing about right now. However, that’s a lot, which means he pretty much grabs you by the hand and pulls you through each of these technologies at top speed. This means the book is never boring: just when you get comfortable with a subject, whoosh! You’re on to the next one. It’s a perfect format for lightly touching on these subjects, each of which might be able to have a book of their own if one went into all the gory details. And he doesn’t shy away from really cool but barely-implemented W3C specs like Grid Layout, either. (Subliminal message from me: We want template syntax. Thanks.)

That’s the main strength of this book. You might know a lot about video, but nothing about SVG or localStorage. This book fixes that. You won’t become an expert in each of the subjects, but it’s surprising how much information Peter packs into each chapter. The book is not really big, but it’s dense. So dense, in fact, it’s easy to miss some of Peter’s dry sense of humor, and his hit-and-run insights, like this one, which is probably my favorite:

“Fast” is the only context that matters.


The book’s structure is very clear. Each chapter contains a general discussion of a given technology, an introduction to the syntax, and examples. And he tops it all off with notes on browser support for each of the technologies discussed in the book.

This book must have taken an incredible amount of time to research and write, and I think Peter did a fantastic job of extracting the real essence of each spec and presenting it in an easy and quick to read format. Highly recommended for both novice and experienced readers.