PowerPivot Books

Update:  My Book is Ready

***UPDATE:  My book, which explains the PowerPivot formula language (DAX), in down-to-earth fashion tailored to the Excel audience, releases November 6, 2012.  I wrote it to fill the “DAX for Excel people” gap that existed between all of the previous books.  People have been asking me seemingly forever to do this, I finally got around to it.

Click here for reviews and ordering options.

Original Post…

Awhile back you may recall David Coe winning our XL Monkey Design Contest, the prizes for which were three unreleased (at the time) books:  two on PowePivot specifically, and one on Pivots in general.  Autographed by the authors of each:  Bill Jelen (Mr. Excel) for two of them, and Denny Lee, Ron Pihlgren, and Siva Harinath for the other.

Well, those books are all released now, and Bill/Denny have sent me the signed copies for delivery to David.

Even better (for me), they each graciously included signed copies for a guy named Rob Collie.  So, PowerPivot books have supplanted Angry Birds as my pre-sleep nighttime routine for the past few days.

Humorous Aside:  Flattery will get you everywhere!

Shrewd promoters that they are, Denny and company had the wisdom to list me in the acknowledgement section of the book, even going so far as to list me first. 
PowerPivot Yoda 
PowerPivot Yoda says:
  “Wise is the author who prominently thanks those with the capacity to promote.”

Mr. Excel takes this even further, with the first two words in the book (after About the Author) being “Rob Collie.”  He even thanks my wife Jocelyn!

All future PowerPivot authors, take note of this.  (Actually, all authors take note of this, regardless of topic, heh heh).

Back to Serious:  Reviewing the Books

All of that fun stuff aside, I think I’ll briefly review these books here on the blog.

Since Bill’s book (the green one) arrived first, I’ve had time to read it already, so I’ll review that one first.

Excel People, Start PowerPivot Here

The arrival of Bill’s book is conveniently timed, since my last post was from an Excel power user who wanted content more tailored to his viewpoint and history.

My biggest overall conclusion after reading Bill’s book is that Excel users will be hard-pressed to find a better place to start their PowerPivot journey.  Bill is not a SQL guy and he is not an MS employee – he has been building spreadsheets in the wild since before Pivots even existed.  And for many years now he has made his living simply teaching others to get the most out of Excel.

That history and perspective shows through in the book.  Reading it is VERY different from reading any of the MS documentation on PowerPivot for instance – that MS content is excellent at describing PowerPivot and how to use it, it just isn’t written by a multi-decade Excel maestro, so it doesn’t tell Excel users, in detail, what will be familiar to them and what will be new.

Example:  the book contains a table listing all the pros and cons of PowerPivot-style pivots versus traditional Excel pivots.  I wouldn’t have come up with half of these differences despite my Excel pedigree, and I consider it the definitive list on the topic:

PowerPivot versus Traditional Pivots

Like a true Excel nerd, Bill even has a numerical Rating column, listing each pro/con as a positive/negative value, and then adds them all up at the bottom to generate +181 as the overall rating.  I wonder if Bill is like this at breakfast, comparing waffles to flapjacks using AutoSum?

(And yeah, I’m intentionally leaving the resolution poor – you’ll have to get the book, as I am not in the habit of republishing other people’s work like that).

Continues Throughout, Covers Every Aspect of PowerPivot

That perspective and experience is maintained cover to cover.  “Here ya go Excel pro, this is why you should care about feature X, when you should apply it instead of traditional Excel feature Y, and when you should stick with the traditional approaches.”

And it goes end-to-end through PowerPivot with this perspective, from data import, editing/cleaning, table relationships, DAX formulas of all types, pivot and slicer layout, formatting, workarounds galore, and touches on SharePoint at the end.  As I said, if you are coming to this from the Excel world, I think this is a great book for you.  It’s a quick, informative, and personable read.  Well worth the $23 at Amazon.

=IF(MOD([PageNum],3)=0,”Rip MS a New One”,”Wait til next page”)

Part of the personable thing:  Bill doesn’t spare MS when he dislikes something.  “Insane,” “crazy,” “hate” – these are a few of his favorite words.  In a few places he rips into decisions that were personally made by me, or by teams I led back at MS.  For instance, he hates the new Compact pivot layout introduced in Excel 2007.  Bill, I’m ready to duel over THAT one.  (Look for my upcoming blog post, The P3 Adaptive Went Down to Akron).

‘Pivotpro drove down to Akron
His fingers tightly grippin’ the wheel
He was looking to find
An Excel author unkind
To pivots’ excellent look and feel

What the book is NOT

Clocking in at 294 pages, this book doesn’t try to do everything, which I think is wise.  I don’t think any Excel pro wants to pick up, as a starting point, a 1200 page bible.  This book is an excellent intro and you will hit the ground running fast, but at some point later, you will eventually go looking for:

  1. An in-depth guide to high-powered DAX measures
  2. An in-depth guide to the implications of various table structures and relationships
  3. Performance-tuning reference
  4. A how-to reference for deploying PowerPivot for SharePoint
  5. List of best practices, tips and tricks, workarounds for Excel Services on SharePoint

Like I said, as an Excel pro, you are MUCH better off NOT trying to tackle those up front.  You can get incredible mileage out of PowerPivot without once touching those topics.  You will want to someday, but you don’t NEED to, so I highly recommend Excel pros pick up this book as their starting point.