This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2015-04-16 at 3:15 p.m.
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When Your Numbers Get Serious, Read “Take Control of Numbers”

by Tonya Engst

Paul Simon sang, “When numbers get serious, you see their shape everywhere.” Apple’s Numbers has gotten serious about providing legitimate competition for Microsoft Excel, and Mac users now see it everywhere, since it ships for free with every Mac. But tapping the power of Numbers isn’t always easy, even for those who have used spreadsheets for years, so we’re tremendously pleased to bring you one of our most significant books ever: Sharon Zardetto’s “Take Control of Numbers [1],” which shows you how to input, calculate, sort, filter, format, and chart your data on the Mac with ease. The book covers Numbers 3.5 in OS X 10.10 Yosemite.

At 330 pages, “Take Control of Numbers [2]” is big, and I had to restrain Sharon from writing even more — Numbers is that deep. But the book is still a tour de force, with hundreds of carefully annotated screenshots, a hands-on example spreadsheet that provides interactive demonstrations of 27 concepts in the book, and a tutorial chapter that helps you put it all together. Of course, you can also treat the book as a reference, using the Quick Start to dip in and focus on a topic of interest.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Michael Cohen’s similarly exhaustive 266-page “Take Control of Pages [3],” which teaches you the best ways to create documents in Apple’s word processor, master the layout tools, and handle compatibility and iCloud Drive, whether you work in Pages 5 for Mac, Pages 2 for iOS, Pages for iCloud, or a combination of those apps. If you want nearly 600 pages of comprehensive documentation for two-thirds of Apple’s iWork suite, you can buy them together for 20 percent off [4], dropping the $40 cover price to $32. (Although it’s too soon to promise anything specific, we are talking about completing the trilogy with “Take Control of Keynote.”)

As CFO for TidBITS Publishing, I spend a lot of time in Excel, and although I had tried Numbers a few times, I always retreated quickly to Excel, flummoxed by how Numbers differed. It wasn’t until I read Sharon’s manuscript that I learned key fundamentals, such as the four possible states for a table. It was also eye-opening to discover just how powerful Numbers is, with features like conditional highlighting, lookup functions that grab data in other tables, nested IF statements, rule-based filters to display only specific rows, and paragraph and character styles to maintain a consistent look and feel.

Thanks to the many readers who suggested that we create “Take Control of Numbers [5]”! Remember, “When times are mysterious, serious numbers are eager to please.” As you can guess, Paul Simon’s “When Numbers Get Serious” inspired more than one editing session for me. If you haven’t heard the song before, or at least recently, read its lyrics [6] or give it a listen [7].