WordPress MU 2.8: Beginner's Guide surprised me positively. To be honest, I did hesitate before accepting a review copy from the publishers as I fully expected it to be "just" a beginner's guide to WordPress mu (the multi user version of WordPress) - essentially the same as a beginner's guide to WordPress, only with a couple extra characters in the name.
I was wrong.
Yes, it covers WordPress mu, but it also covers a whole variety of other software that ties into mu. BuddyPress (social network add-on), and bbPress (forum) are both covered, along with a series of plugins that help turn you site from a multi user blog into a full blown community.
I think a more accurate title for the book would be something like 'Building a community with open source software'. It covers so much more than just WordPress mu.
There's a lot squeezed into the book, and as such it rarely gets bogged down with technicalities. Everything is covered concisely with links added that point you to websites with more specific information. I was able to follow it easily, but I have a lot of experience with WordPress, I wonder if true "beginners" would have the same level of success; you certainly need to have some experience with web dev in general to make the most of it.
Each chapter follows a similar pattern. Decide a task, execute a solution, explain the solution, 'pop quiz' and summary with a few places to get more info - and it works really well. Each chapter is self-contained and so can be referred to when you reach the required stage with your own site. It's also relatively effortless to read - I read it cover to cover in maybe 4/5 hours over a couple of days.
There's a lot to recommend about WordPress MU 2.8: Beginner's Guide and I suspect I will be using it myself as reference in the future, I plan to do some BuddyPress themes at some stage for Pro Theme Design... and I like the idea of making my own social network as well.
That said it's not 100% perfect. In a couple of places there are suggestions to use inline css styles (tiny no-no) and in one chapter it even recommends modifying core WordPress mu files (definite no-no - makes upgrades a nightmare). There are also a couple of recommendations for Dreamhost as a low-cost home for your site. Dreamhost is great for basic sites - but I'm not sure I would use it for something as complex as the beast that is WordPress mu, BuddyPress and bbPress.
It's unrelated to WordPress mu but the book also gave me some ideas for my upcoming site WPVote, and I intend to talk more about these in future posts.
If you're looking for a beginners guide to creating a blog then this may not be for you. Instead I would recommend a more basic WordPress or web development book. If you're looking for something that challenges you, and asks you to think for yourself then WordPress MU 2.8: Beginners Guide may well be what you're looking for. Of the three books I have received from Packt publishing, this is the one I would have actually paid for myself...