As the title suggests, this is an excellent second book on Go. After you have learned the rules, and feel ready to move onto the next phase of study, the material contained within will elevate your game beyond that of a rank beginner. Lots of useful information contained within. Of special interest is the section on playing Handicap games, as it is not a subject covered in many other books!
It does help to explore clear up some concepts that are only touched upon in introductory books, and I think my game has improved slightly from reading it. That said, the whole thing feels like an advertisement for Kiseido's Elementary Go and Get Strong At Go series of books, which was annoying.
This is the first book on Go that I have read that was not easy to breeze through. It takes some time to digest what is being communicated here. The two chapters on liberties and capturing races alone are worth the price of the book. Ironically, these two brilliant chapters are followed by a rather simple chapter on good and bad shape. There seems to be a little unevenness in the level of instruction seen in the comparison of these three chapters alone. Nevertheless, this is a great book and very appropriately titled.
I encourage readers to take it slow with this book. It is likely that I will return to this book many many times due to its depth.
After you master the concepts for beginners, this book is a really useful tool to improve your go game. There are many topics presented here, some in more detail than others. If I had to pick the best among them all I would have to give it to capturing races. These situations decide many games, and being able to understand what is going on, which ones are settled and which ones unsettled is key in playing better. The authors classify capturing races according to their characteristics and give clear instructions on how to determine who wins the race. This is followed by a set of techniques to apply to win races, for example by playing tesujis to gain extra liberties.
There is a section on the opening that is a little too basic for my taste, and the same can be said for the last section of the book, which deals with ko. I enjoyed the chapter on handicap go, not so much because I play games with high handicaps, but because many of the recommendations can be applied in your even games. Josekis, tesujis and attacking as a means to gain territory were also good sections.
Finally, I found a little disparity between Life & Death and Shape, where the concepts were way too basic, and The Endgame, were it went overly complex. I am 7k in KGS, and the material on the endgame was way over my head. I understood the basic ideas, but when the author gives you a position and tells you to find the next 15 moves, something is not right.
Anyway, overall it is a very useful book, but it does have its faults. Still, it fills a void that not many other books address, which is the jump between beginner and strong kyu player, and the information on capturing races is top notch.
The "first book of go" would be the rules. For someone just starting out, I would put this one 3rd in line of must-read books.
1. Janice Kim's "Learn to Play Go: Volume 1" (which includes the rules) 2. Janice Kim's "Learn to Play Go: Volume 2" (which includes the rules) 3. The Second Book of Go
The Kim books will give you a basis for understanding what this book is talking about.
"The Second Book of Go" dives right in, with a shallow overview of many topics. Each chapter is a survey of a particular topic like the opening, the endgame, liberties, counting, tesuji, joseki, shape and ko fighting. Giving on several pages to each topic, it's very shallow in it's coverage. However, a player who just learned the rules is still going to have to work hard to absorb this information. I read some chapters in here upwards of 10 times as I progressed, and still picked up new information each time.
Of of the key concepts in this book, which will help any new player, comes in the handicap chapter. The premise is that since you're awful, you'll be playing black a lot and usually with a high handicap. It gives you some strategies to practice to exploit your extra starting material, stressing an attacking style. The authors don't suggest a reckless style, but instead want you to put pressure on your opponent right from the start.
This is the best book on Go I've ever read. It is exactly the level I needed after I'd played and lost many games. I totally understand the beginning of the book, and the ending is still beyond me. The middle of the book is still great, challenging reading.