I had zero experience with Photoshop when I opened this book. However, I had used restricted aspects of PaintShop Pro, so some of the concepts were no doubt a bit easier for me. In general, though, I approached this text as a total beginner.
Calling this a book is a misnomer. It is an integrated teaching system, including images stored on your computer, settings loaded and saved into Photoshop, and videos. In the Preface, you set up and learn how to use the non-book elements. Especially critical are the included image files; the lessons require that you be able to open the included images into Photoshop. If you skip or skim the Preface, "you'll be sorrr-ry..."
The teaching is linear. You can't skip around, and in fact (if you are a newbie) you can't skip a sentence or even a word without risking total disorientation.
After the Preface/setup phase, there are 12 chapters called "lessons", although they would more accurately be termed chapters or sections, as there are a number of discrete (and sometimes only tenuously connected) lessons in each one.
I rate the book 4 stars, "very good", as an introductory text. I feel quite satisfied to have used it as my introduction to Photoshop and it was worth the price I paid for it and the time I invested in it. I have completed the entire book (although I just skimmed the last chapter, on printing, because I don't currently need to print graphics to paper).
I hope you'll keep the four-star rating in mind when reading the criticisms, so that you can put them into an overall context.
Deke (Deke McClelland, the author) is very personal in tone. The lessons begin by loading one or more images (copied from the DVD). Deke then leads you through a series of steps to accomplish a result, such as a) selecting part of one image and moving it into another, then cleaning up the composite to make it look more realistic, or b) creating adjustment layers or layer masks to change the appearance.
This basic approach takes up about 80% of the book. There are a considerable number of sidebars or bordered paragraphs to explain tangential points, some of them comprising several distinct pages.
There are also an abundance of illustrations of both the image you are manipulating, and the Photoshop controls you are supposed to be using, to make sure you are up to speed at any given point. If the book errs, it is on the side of too many rather than too few illustrations, probably a good thing for beginners. Photoshop is huge and complex, and on the rare occasions when you get disoriented, you can just go back a few paragraphs, study the text and illustrations, and get back on track.
The 12 chapters at least touch on all the basic concepts and actions in Photoshop. In all, it gives you a good springboard for advanced learning.
1. My biggest gripe about the book is that it too often leads you through the steps too fast, learning "how" to accomplish a very specific task without a sufficient explanation of "why". For example, one of the blend modes you are supposed to use repeatedly is "Multiply". Information about how Multiply works and what it accomplishes are scattered rather randomly among the instances when it is used. The book would benefit from a single explanation of how it works, with perhaps a simple example and a comparison to the closely-related "Darken" mode.
Similarly, the various sections where masks are made (which are mostly quite good) would benefit from a page of introductory "why", rather than scattered bits and pieces of information. I spent at least five minutes wondering "why in the h____ is the thumbnail for this vector mask gray".
2. At the worst, I was unable to accomplish a couple of lessons. There are one or two lessons that are just not very good, especially "Using the Vanishing Point Filter". Following the steps does not get you to the result. I really would have just thrown up my hands in despair, except that there is an excellent sidebar -- really a separate lesson -- called "Enhanced vanishing Point 2.0".
A related, less serious criticism, is that often the lessons bite off too much in one segment.
3. The O'Reilly website has an "errata" section that is completely empty. There is no forum that I have found. In short, support for users of the book is severely deficient. There aren't a lot of errata that I found, compared to some other programming books I have read, but there are some.
4. A lot of space is wasted by fully repeating utterly simple procedures. How to rename a layer is fully explained a dozen times, and the difference between Mac and MS keyboard commands (such as Ctrl for MS versus the cloverleaf key on a Mac) is repeated, in full, at least a hundred times. Other basic procedures that are much more likely to cause confusion are sometimes not explained or repeated adequately, especially the baffling world of dragging, clicking, and double clicking with various ctrl/alt/shift combinations.
5. The tests are good, but often involve concepts too difficult to extract by normal straight-through study: e.g. terms mentioned once in a sidebar or comprehensive definitions never really fleshed out in the text.
Besides the basic four-star rating, there are some extras. You get a free 7-day promo trial to Deke's video course site. And the book is full of his delightful grade-school-wacky humor.
I did not find the videos included on the DVD to be particularly helpful, although they were interesting enough. They just don't actually teach you anything.
I have to say, the sheer amount of work that went into this book is mind-boggling. Writing a comprehensive introduction to Photoshop is unbelievably difficult. I think it's a good job overall; I'm glad I bought it and followed it from first page to last; and I would recommend the book to a beginner with decent underlying computer skills.