It's trite, I know, but the best way to learn is by doing. I'd much prefer that all of this book give you hands-on practice in each topic area. Unfortunately, in the first three chapters on database design, I ask you to sit and read patiently as I develop the Classic TV relational database. There just didn't seem any way to usefully involve readers in the action.
In the rest of the book, however, and to the greatest extent possible, I use step-by-step exercises to illustrate key concepts. Most of the examples are based on the Nifty Lions database I built, which is in broadly accessible Access 2000 format. It closely resembles Access's sample database, Northwind.mdb, because I wanted you to use a database that is probably already somewhat familiar. But Nifty Lions is simpler than Northwind; it contains far fewer records, and (for Americans, at least) the supplier names are simple and familiar. In a few exercises, I have used Northwind where the example called for a database with more records. In some of the later chapters, you use other databases and files (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, picture files, text files, and so on) that I've created. All of these files are available online at http://www.awprofessional.com/title/0321245458. Under More Information, click Example(s).
Before the first exercise in each chapter, I ask you to copy the relevant database or file to your hard drive. At the end of the chapter, assuming you've done all the exercises in order, you can compare your results against the solution database or file, which is available from the same Addison-Wesley website. (For example, NiftyLionsChap7End.mdb is the Nifty Lions database at the end of Chapter 7.) For each exercise, you will also find one or more screenshots printed in the book against which you can compare your results at intermediate or final stages.
This book uses numerous analogies to help you understand important database principles. William Safire, language maven, says there is no such thing as a bad pun. Maybe that's true, but there is certainly such a thing as a bad analogy. Some database principles are so difficult to get your arms around, however, that I have erred on the side of incaution and included less-than-perfect analogies where I thought they might provide some illumination.