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Review -
Excel Hacks: 100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tools

by David & Raina Hawley

bookMicrosoft Excel is an extremely powerful tool. Yet most users have only scratched the surface of its power, using only a small part of its capabilities.

Excel Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools by David & Raina Hawley, shows readers how to do more, and how to do things better, with the market-leading spreadsheet. The word "hack" here refers to its original meaning in computers. A hack was either a "quick and dirty solution" or a "clever way of doing things", and didn't refer to breaking into systems. This book presents 100 different hacks spread over eight categories, covering the basics; built-in features; naming hacks; pivot tables; charts; formulas and functions; macros; and connecting Excel to the rest of the world.

Individually, none of these hacks may cause you to run down the street shouting "Eureka", but together they should help just about every Excel user. I consider myself an expert user, working with spreadsheets for over twenty years and teaching classes in Excel and 1-2-3, yet I was still able to learn a lot from this book. In some cases, it was genuinely new information (Hack #50, Explode a Single Slice from a Pie Chart or Hack #99, Access SOAP Web Services from Excel). In other cases, it showed how to use a tool I knew about in some different way (Hack #41, Create Custom Functions Using Names or Hack #78, Construct Mega-Formulas). A couple of times, it served as a reminder to use some tool that I had been neglecting (Hack #6, Customize the Template Dialog and Default Workbook).

Some of the hacks are usability tips, showing how other tools (such as pivot tables) will be more useful if you lay out data in a certain way. Several tips help if you develop spreadsheets for others to use, limiting their capacity to screw things up. Sometimes, the hacks may just spur you to further thought, making you think "Gee, if you can use this tool to do this, maybe with just a little more work I can get it do that!"

The hacks are self-contained, so you don't have to read the book cover-to-cover. If a particular topic doesn't interest you, it won't hurt to jump ahead, or even skip a particular chapter. You don't need to type in long, complicated listings either. You can download the sample code for all the hacks from the authors' website. The authors do Excel training and application work in western Australia, and their website is crammed with more Excel material.

Who should read this book? The ideal audience is the broad middle class of Excel users. You shouldn't give it to a beginner, because they are still learning about the forest while this book looks at individual trees. Super power users, who may know ninety of these hacks already, won't get that much of it either, but they should be writing the books, not reading them. But for everyone in between, the book is sure to teach something you didn't know about Excel.

Buy this book at Amazon.com

This review is also at Blogcritics