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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 PowerPivotPro 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.

Rob Collie

One of the original engineering leaders behind Power BI and Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, Rob Collie founded a consulting company in 2013 that is 100% devoted to “the new way forward” made possible by Power BI and its related technologies. Since 2013, PowerPivotPro has rapidly grown to become the leading firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology never before seen in the Business Intelligence space. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team would like to help you revolutionize your business and your career.

This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. Rob – I respect the heck out of you.
    I respect you enough to put you first in the acknowledgements.
    I respect you enough to start the book with you.
    I appreciate the review.

    But if you actually had any part in putting multiple row fields in the same column, then you better come on down to Akron, because we are going to have to duke it out. This violates some cardinal rule of data analysis…each column should only have one kind of data!


      Apologies, but blog comments will be slow as I will be in Akron for part of the afternoon.

      Shouldn’t take me long. 5 minutes plus travel time, tops.

      Back soon.

  2. excel jocks as humorless pencil neck geeks?..not if billrob have anything to say abou it…educational, entertaining and powerful…great stuff…thanks gents!

  3. Overall the Mr. Excel book was very solid. It’s a good intro to the new features and capabilities. I would have liked to have seen some content on considerations when moving models from basic PivotTables to PowerPivot. For example, PivotTables by definition have to have everything in one giant table. PowerPivot models end up working better with separated lookup (dimension) tables in my experience so far.

    I’m looking forward to the 1200 page bible.

    Also, I think the compact layout is a really good feature. It allows PivotTables to be used as a final product in many cases. The best example I have are financial reports with a ragged account hierarchy 5 levels deep. It is impossible to make a good looking final report using tabular layout. It probably would be good for the user to be able to set a default layout, though.

    1. Thanks Bill. That is precisely the reason I like it too. It just looks pro, plus it saves a lot of horizontal screen real estate.

      For instance, in all of our production applications at Pivotstream, so far, all of them have Compact layout. That’s not just because of me – I only design a small fraction of the final layouts.

      I think we could make quite a saga out of this little debate, kinda along the lines of the Chart Police posts. Interesting that Mr. Excel uses pie charts in his book heh heh 🙂

      (I support the use of pie charts btw)

  4. The Excel references that I rely on the most are the ones that I’ve bought from Mr. Excel. What I like most about these books is that they describe the Excel functionality as it relates to what I am trying to do with it. This is much more helpful than a mere “this is what it is and what it does” approach.

    From this review, it sounds as though PowerPivot for the Data Analyst is written the same way. This will be the first PowerPivot book that I buy. Judging from Mr. Excel’s other books, I expect that it will be the only one I’ll need until I’m ready for the 1,200-page Bible.

  5. I just finished reading the book. From an ‘Excel pro’ point of view I also highly recommend it as a starting point on PowerPivot. It covers all the aspects you need to get started with the Excel user in mind.

    It would be an improvement if a reference to the sample files was included in each chapter though. Now I sometimes found myself searching through the files to find the correct one to follow along. Apart from that there are a few errors which I can imagine are due to tight publication deadlines.

    A quick note for the international users out there: using the FORMAT function to format dates into month names using “MMM” as the argument might not have the desired effect when you’re working on a system with a different language. You might get Dutch month names in stead of English ones for example.

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