jQuery: Novice to Ninja covers using jQuery in building a site - a nice contrast to the jQuery Cookbook, since this uses a concrete example to show how and why to use jQuery functionality.
This book really helped me understand jQuery - each chapter covers using a certain area of jQuery functionality, building on the previous chapters. It’s really useful for the example code, which clearly shows how functionality can be implemented, so is really useful for those beginning to learn jQuery.
The book also covers jQuery-UI (a library which provides more animations and layouts), and includes a jQuery reference at the end of the book.
The jQuery Cookbook contains various ‘recipes’ - sample code for common problems (such as form validation) along with an explanation of why the code is written in a certain way.
However, it is useful for intermediate topics - for instance, patterns for creating your own jQuery plugins, or methods for optimising the code you write.
I wouldn’t recommend reading it cover-to-cover; it’s more suited for giving an answer to a specific problem.
The real highlight of this book is it’s online version, which includes a console for you to write and run scripts as you follow the exercises. This is really useful for following the tutorials and experimenting with what you’ve just learnt.
This is a comprehensive guide but absolutely huge - it’ll take a while to get through.