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Items with inline-block are treated (sort of) as though they are text…so you can center them with text-align:center. It’s a little more complex than that but that’s essentially it.

Block level items are just that, big honking blocks that ignore small instructions like text-align…they have their own requirements and need to be put in their place by using margin to move them around but their default alignment is left (generally).

Also, if you don’t set a width on block level item it’s default is to be 100% width of it’s parent.

If you give it a width, it sits right where it is (left) until you give it some margin.

Now it so happens that if you set margin:auto to a block item it works out the amount of space it needs, splits it down the middle and applies it automagically to left and right…boom…centered.

I recommend this site as well as some of Chris’ videos right here on CSS-Tricks.