Make: Electronics: Learning Through Discovery
I am about a third of the way through this book and I am loving it. This is the perfect introduction to hands-on electronics. I was an engineering student in college (although not electrical engineering) so I was always kind of upset that after spending countless nights of my life doing all sorts of crazy math problems with respect to circuits, I didn't know something as simple as how a relay works, or how to build anything except maybe a simple circuit with a lightbulb and a resistor. I could design and build an RC circuit and calculate its time-constant but why in God's name I would ever NEED to build an RC circuit was beyond me...
No more. This book lets you know that its safe to rip open a relay and see exactly why it works. It will give you a circuit design and then have you build it. It will explain why something is or isn't working, and why. This won't make you an expert in electronics, it is definitely on the simple side of things (like algebraic simplifications of mathematical models that are actually rooted in calculus or differential equations), but that's exactly what I was looking for. This book will empower you to build things. I am reading it side by side with the Electricity & Magnetism chapters of my old Physics textbook so I can make the connections with the real theory and the nastier side of the math, but I really couldn't be happier. In spite of years of college, this book is just now making me feel like I know something about electronics.
Also, I recommend buying the kit that's sold for this book because it will save you a little money and a LOT of time. Amazon has been out of stock of it forever, but I went to the closest Radioshack and they had it for $75. Other than that, you will need to buy Digital Multimeter, a pair of wire strippers that can deal with 22-gauge wire, a pair of wire-cutters, a pair of needlenose pliers, and a set of precision screw drivers. Seems steep but if you plan on making use of your new-found knowledge for the foreseeable future, you will be using these tools well after you've worked through this book.