Head First WordPress by O'Reilly Media (July 2010) is a good overview of the features available in the WordPress platform. The book is designed to help the reader set up WordPress and get a feel for the way the software works while giving an overview of what can be done with WordPress. The author, Jeff Siarto, does not attempt to explain every feature of the WordPress software.
The book starts out with an explanation of how much knowledge the reader should have before diving into the material. The author admits that the book is not for everyone since there is a basic understanding of certain technologies and protocols required to get started with the book. Primarily you would need a good understanding of HTML and CSS and how they relate to one another. There is not a need to be well versed in these languages. Beyond that, the book assumes that you have either not installed WordPress before, or you are trying to do it right this time.
Chapter one goes through installing WordPress. It is assumed that the reader already has a web host. If you don't have one, a couple of recommendations were given. This chapter goes into enough detail that the you could install WordPress using an FTP program, which is explained well. Since many web hosts offer "one-click install" of WordPress a little attention was given to that installation method. After installation you are guided through writing your first blog post and uploading a picture to go along with the post.
The next chapter is about changing the way the blog looks and functions. While there was enough information in the chapter to follow the steps exactly and accomplish what the author accomplished, there was not enough information to give you confidence that you could alter any theme for your needs. There is a good explanation of how to make widgets work in this chapter, but again there wasn't enough information on what can be done with widgets.
Chapter three did an excellent job in showing how WordPress is more than just a blogging platform, it is a Content Management System (CMS). While creating a blog with WordPress was its original purpose, there is much more that WordPress can do. This chapter goes into details about how to create static pages that look just like a regular web page, but is as easy to manage and manipulate as a WordPress blog post.
Categories, tags and users are all explained in chapter four. None of these are complicated concepts, but the author did a good job in distinguishing between categories and tags. Setting up users and avatars are also covered in this chapter.
Chapter five dives into embedding YouTube and Vimeo videos. Besides giving a couple of pitfalls to watch out for, and recommending a couple of plugins to use, there was not much to say about the subject.
While chapter six gives a good overview of what podcasting is and how it works, the information did not seem complete enough to get someone started with their own podcast. The author explained how to use certain plugins and services to make podcasting easier. In the end, however, a reader seriously interested in podcasting will need another book. This book could have saved 25 pages by just giving the overview of podcasting and telling you that WordPress was the best platform for serving a podcast.
Chapter seven is about how to secure a WordPress install. It is a bit more technical than the rest of the book, which is probably why it was saved for the end. However, if this information was covered during the installation process of WordPress (chapter 1), it would have saved the reader from having to dig into the database tables and manually alter a record. Securing WordPress when installing it is far better than trying to secure it after the site has been hacked. Having said all of that, it was a good explanation of how sites can be hacked and what an administrator can do to prevent future attacks.
Chapter eight is less about WordPress and more about plugins and services that can be used to improve the speed of the website. There are plugins that give detailed traffic information as well as help speed up WordPress' ability to serve files. While all of the concepts in the book were very basic and covered in an overview format, this chapter seemed to stick out as being much more advanced and unnecessary.
The only appendix talks about the things they intentionally left out of the book. At 368 pages, it was already long enough. However, covering some of the concepts of how to manage comments seems like it would have been a better topic for an overview of WordPress than spending a whole chapter on how to make WordPress faster when your site gets hit by Digg. The book could have also dispensed with most of the podcasting chapter and given more coverage to installing alternate themes from the Themes settings.
This is the first book in the Head First series that I have read. I found it entertaining and easy to understand. Because I have a good grasp of WordPress and how it works, I learned very little that I did not already know from installing and administering a few WordPress websites. The book was obviously not intended for someone who has installed WordPress more than a couple of times before. Without a doubt this book was written for the new WordPress administrator.
Because Head First WordPress is new (about 7 months old as I write this), I was looking for it to cover some of the newer concepts in theme design (child themes) and functionality. This book is not a book about everything that you can do with WordPress. It is simply a book about how to get it running safely on a basic level. If you have never installed WordPress, this book will help you set up WordPress with confidence. If you are already an experienced WordPress user, then this book will not teach you much that you didn't already know.