Ever since the early days of the internet, literally anybody who has wanted a website of his or her own has been free to create and post one. The dotcom boom has proven this to be the case, without question, and being a web designer or programmer is certainly lucrative, if you can find work.
So, with so many people out there attempting to create websites for themselves and their businesses, all you have to do is just a little browsing and clicking to find a website or two--or a hundred--that, frankly, could use more than a little work. And with good reason, too--web standards seem to be changing all the time, plus learning a new programming language seems daunting, especially when you have little or no experience writing programs, let alone designing websites.
Enter O'Reilly, then, which is probably the best-known of all technology and web-focused publishers. (How can you not notice the random animals on the covers of their books?) One of their newest releases, Learning PHP 5 by David Sklar, is an approachable and surprisingly svelte volume, and is a great place for web programming novices to begin.
But first, a word about the subject at the heart of the book. PHP is a powerful open-source web programming language, renowned for its versatility and its (relative) simplicity, and is a great place for those of us (yes, me included) who just don't really "get" programming. Let's face it, here--I failed pre-calculus in high school, and have to use my fingers to add and subtract. Programming is not, and never has been, my forté--making me the ideal candidate to try this book out.
An important side note--PHP 5 is the newest release of the PHP software, but this book is equally applicable to earlier versions of PHP. Commands that are PHP 5-only are denoted early on in the text, so there's no confusion as to what will and won't work with your server's setup.
Enter Sklar's book, which is about as non-confrontational as they come. The chapters are short and to-the-point, working in sequence beginning with PHP basics and syntax, and then advancing to such relatively nebulous topics as working with and connecting to databases (focusing primarily on MySQL). An inexperienced programmer can easily follow along, though Sklar does move quickly, and I did find myself re-reading passages here and there when I didn't easily grasp a concept at first.