I have been working at teaching myself Access for about five years. I now own 7 books on the topic, but I could practically throw the rest away and just keep this one.
Microsoft Office Access 2003: Complete Concepts And Techniques Coursecard Edition by Gary B. Shelly, Thomas J. Cashman, Mary Z. Last, Philip J. Pratt
This is one of the SAM books, published by Thompson Course Technologies
This book makes very few assumptions about your computer knowledge, is thorough and provides useful and not overly-simplified example databases.
Organized by Projects (basically chapters), you learn:
1. creating and using a database
2. querying a database
3. maintaining a database
4. reports, forms and combo boxes
5. OLE fields, hyperlinks, subforms
6. switchboards, pivot tables, pivot charts
7. data access pages (web design)
Even a beginner will move quickly to creating a relational database. I watched several people who were totally unfamiliar with Access use this book, and they really were able to understand what was happening with this non-intuitive software.
Although I knew Access fairly well when I met this book, it did make much more clear any number of things that I had not been doing quite right, or perhaps had been doing in a more cumbersome manner. My goal all along had been to create a many-to-many relationship between two tables. None of the other books had done more than mention this complicated feature. This book also, only touches on the topic, but somehow with what I previously knew it was just enough to push me over the edge, and I successfully got my database to do what I've been dreaming of all along. To be honest, this book doesn't fully explain this feature either, but it gets you started.
There are step-by-step instructions with screen views all the way along. There are very few mistakes (like when a book has been telling you every step and then suddenly forgets one, leaving you in the lurch if you are really a beginner). Each project has several assignments at the end to reinforce what you just learned. In addition to the index, there is a Quick Reference Summary to help you locate the pages that cover features you have learned.
Pros: Truly a learn-it-yourself tutorial book. Good graphics, step-by-step instruction
Cons: Harder to use as a reference book if you are more than a beginner
The Bottom Line: If you want to buy one book to learn Access, get this one. It will quickly move you from beginner to becoming competent to build a useful database.