It shouldn't really surprise anyone that David Pogue has once again produced an unqualified success in the third edition of Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. Since OS X came out, I've read and reviewed some dozen Mac books, but when it comes time to pick a single volume to recommend to friends making the switch, I invariably choose Pogue's. It's true that OS X beginners can understand it without any problems, but that shouldn't suggest that it's somehow too simple for veteran users - it's just that the text is exceptionally clear, meaning that even beginners won't find it too scary or confusing. While other books are bigger (Mac OS X Unleashed) and others are written specifically for a more advanced audience (Mac OS X Power Tools), the Missing Manual is the best all-purpose book on the subject, and one that should be in the library of pretty much anyone who runs OS X.
As I see it, there are really two groups of people who might be wondering whether or not they ought to buy Pogue's new Panther book: Mac users who own a previous edition of the Missing Manual, and those who don't. For the latter folks, the short answer is yes - you should buy this book. And for the former, the short answer is probably. Keeping in mind that all the various online retailers offer significant discounts on the book, and that you can also get 30% off if you've registered a previous edition with O'Reilly, it's going to only wind up costing you about twenty bucks, and it's definitely worth it. The book hasn't just been updated to reflect changes and new features in Panther - it's also been updated to reflect reader feedback on previous versions, including things like more information for people migrating from Windows, and mini-manuals on some of the iLife applications. There isn't a single page that hasn't been changed from the Jaguar edition of the book (and there are over seven hundred pages).
Some of my Mac-using friends have told me that they haven't picked up anything from the Missing Manual series because they're under the impression that they're basically novice guides. This is both right and wrong - it's absolutely true that beginners will get their money's worth from a Missing Manual and that they won't get lost in an abundance of overtechnical discussion. The part that isn't true, however, is the implication that these are books only for beginners. I've been using Macs for over ten years now (and various Unix-like systems for five), but my copies of the Missing Manuals get dog-eared and underlined more than any other technical books I own. One of the reasons I'd dispute the claim that this book isn't useful for advanced users is that sprinkled throughout are dozens of little productivity notes - a keystroke here, a shortcut tip there - and this is the stuff that I, at least, really get off on, while it seems like novice users tend to be content with straightforward dragging and double clicking. I dive into Part One ("The Mac OS X Desktop") with my Mac in easy reach not because I don't know how to minimize a window, but because I had no idea that (for example) there's now a Finder keystroke to jump immediately to the parent directory. That's not to say topics typically associated with power users aren't given their due, though. Even people who know their Unices (and Unix workalikes) will probably welcome the coverage of NetInfo Manager and other OS X oddities. If you find yourself stuck on some particular topic, chances are it's covered here. It's not by any means an exhaustive guide to BSD, but it's a good way to get started with Darwin. I end up using this book often enough that it has its own place of honor on top of my G4 (my other Mac books are also nearby, of course, but they're not necessarily quite so handy).
Aside from the little-bit-of-everything approach, one of the most refreshing features of the Missing Manuals series remains the writing itself - surprisingly readable, often funny, and rarely confusing. These are some of the few technical books that I'm willing or able to read cover to cover, and some of them I've even read in bed or on the subway. As for specific parts and chapters that stand out from the rest: the new mini-manuals dealing with iLife applications like iTunes and iPhoto are a welcome addition. They'd been more or less ignored in previous editions of the OS X book, since they've got their own books, but the Panther edition introduces a section on each to get you started. Another of my favorite portions of the book is the addition of Appendix F, the Master Mac OS X Secret Keystroke List. It will take a while before I'm able to memorize all of them, and in the meantime it's great to have them all collected in one place.