i have the second book you mention. it'll certainly give you a good start with max. that said, i agree with billy. just get in there and get stuck into the tutorials. you'll start figuring out how to get what you want once you have a handle on the basics. there are nice little patches included with that book which you should certainly pull apart for your own use.
also, [trigger] is your friend.
worryingly, i've noticed that max lingo is starting to creep into my everyday lexicon. people look at you strangely when you say things like bang as a verb.