I sa don't bother learning linux . Chances are your not seeting up a server. If u are then I belive debian and slackware are the most powerfull. Redhat and Mandrake are good foor newbies, but I really think u should stick with windows XP
I myself use Slackware 8.0 and it's great. The install is in text mode only but it's very easy to use. Just make sure you still have your monitor instruction booklet if you want to use X; you'll need your refresh rates.
I also used Mandrake (don't remember which version) and never had any problems with it either. The install is a nice GUI and it includes everything you would need.
The new RedHat version seems nice with the new KDE 3 and Gnome, running the RedHat theme, Bluecurve. I have yet to try it out, but from what I've seen, it looks very promising.
I suggest you try as many distros as you can and choose the one you prefer.
As for books, try Linux in a Nutshell, by Ellen Siever, Stephen Spainhour, Jessica P. Hekman and Stephen Figgins. It's got everything you need.
Artamir, it's really great, i got it the day it came out, the install went perfect eth0 loaded up without a hitch, i didn't even have to set up dns, gateways, dhcp - nothing. I was online when i plugged in my ethernet cable. The only thing in the internal dial up modem's not supported in Linux, it's a win modem. Speaking of that does anyone out there have a PCMCIA 56k modem for sale? Send me a pm!