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Keywords: Linux, GNU, system admin, operating system
Title: Linux Cookbook
Author: Carla Schroder
Level: Beginner, intermediate
This is a wonderfully useful sort of book; well-written, well-organised and well-worth seeking out. It's pitched at the reader who is still finding his or her Linux feet. Not quite complete beginner and not quite super-user or guru. As such it avoids the hand-holding guide to installation at one extreme and the how to navigate raw inodes at the other. It also tries to steer a path through the jungle of distributions, focusing on Red Hat and Debian (as representatives of RPM and APT based distributions), with occasional forays into Knoppix. However, other distros (such as SuSE and Slackware) also get mentioned to point out relevant differences.
Like all good cookbooks this has plenty of recipes neatly organised into chapters. In this case there are two dozen chapters, each devoted to a distinct set of tasks (starting with finding documentation and ending with managing name resolution). Chapters cover major topics such as managing files and partitions, managing users and groups, backup and recovery, Samba, multi-booting and so on. Note that these are all pretty much core system admin concerns rather than focusing on end-user applications and the desktop. In that sense this clearly differentiates the book from something that's aimed at the new user crossing over from Windows, a la Marcel Gagne's 'Moving To Linux'.
Each recipe is structured as a problem (for example you want to boot Linux and Windows on your machine), with a solution, discussions and pointers to further information. This task-list approach makes it possible to quickly find solutions to problems, and it also means that the book doesn't have to be read cover to cover. If a solution to a problem depends on a different recipe then there are cross-references there in the text to say so. It makes this a good book to have close to hand, more reference than tutorial.
The writing is clear and enthusiastic, which helps. It gets across the attitude that reader should just go ahead and try it. If this helps to demystify Linux to those who've heard that it's hard to do then so much the better. It might even tempt those users who are scared to move away from the desktop and drop down into the shell. In many respects it covers similar territory to How Linux Works by Brian Ward, though this book is more focused on how to get things done on less on why things work, whereas Ward was trying to give a deeper understanding of how Linux hangs together.
All in all this is a good book to have around if you're ready to start taking control of your Linux box.