"Apache Essentials: Install, Configure, Maintain" by Darren James Harkness promises to "explain how to configure Apache using plain language, giving examples that matter to you" and to turn the reader into an "Apache superstar." Disappointingly, it doesn't deliver on these promises. The book reads more like a book report than a technical volume, in that the author seems to have chosen only a handful of his favorite Apache topics to write about in some depth, to give the book its meat. Unfortunately, you really can't (or shouldn't) learn something as complex as Apache configuration by reading the Cliff Notes.
Throughout his book, Harkness makes his disdain for "propellerheads" quite clear. Unfortunately, it takes someone with deep technical knowledge to install, configure and maintain a large, secure, production web server. By purposely avoiding "propellerhead" details, the book ends up not delivering sufficient information or training to allow the reader to accomplish these goals. While the information in the book may be adequate for getting started with a small, non-critical Apache server in the ideal environment, the reader will need to turn to his "propellerhead" friends -- or to a more technical book -- the first time something doesn't go exactly as expected.
The coverage of topics is superficial and spotty. While some esoteric topics are discussed in excruciating detail (like the five pages of options listed for the Linux-only logrotate application), other important topics are glossed over or skipped entirely. A particularly glaring weakness is in the coverage of Apache user authentication: The .htpassword file is mentioned only in passing, with no mention of how to create it or how to format it until 100 pages later in the middle of an unrelated example, when it simply says the .htpassword file is "created through using the htpassword utility" and nothing else. Sadly, this is fairly typical of the coverage given to some important topics.
Looking at the three areas mentioned in the book's subtitle:
1) INSTALL: The chapter on installing Apache is a whopping seven pages long (yes, that says "seven," not "seventy"), and one of those pages is given over in its entirety to two short tables and another to a screenshot of the Apache default homepage. The only things actually covered in the remaining five pages are some system requirements and choosing between the source and binary versions. Incredibly, the "Installing Apache" chapter never actually tells you how to install Apache. (Compare this treatment to that given in either of David Powers "Foundation PHP" books from the same publisher, where dozens of pages are given to Apache (and PHP) installation, with seemingly every possible troubleshooting step and contingency clearly laid out.)
2) CONFIGURE: The bulk of the book is devoted to Apache configuration, but again the treatment is spotty. While the reader will indeed get an adequate grasp of custom error messages, for example, the information provided on scripting and server-side includes is not even sufficient for a loose grasp. The chapter on SSL will leave anyone's head spinning -- whether or not there's a propeller on top of his head.
3) MAINTAIN: At 27 pages, the chapter on Apache log files is the longest chapter in the book, thanks mostly to exhaustive, multiple-page listings of various options and settings. While the reader will exit with a good knowledge of Apache logs, there's little else in the book about maintaining an active Apache server.
The only audience for whom I might recommend this book would be designers who are interested in having a high-level idea of how Apache is configured, but who would never need to install, configure, or maintain it themselves. Those designers who actually do need to learn how to accomplish these tasks would be much better served by the above-mentioned chapters in David Powers's books, combined with the ubiquitous (and free) downloadable Apache tutorials on the internet.