I can't comment much on the use of split images as it is a bit hard to understand what exactly you are talking about. Maybe you could provide an example of a website so that we could see what you're talking about.
That book is good, i started off reading that book almost a year ago, and i've grown leaps and bounds since then.
the right way really did make an effect I think.
As for your second question, well, in my opinion the use of a table based website is... TERRIBLE! So limiting to say the least. So my answer to that would be to learn more about html and css positioning. It's definately the better way to go.
I have one more thing to say, learn a little bit about php includes when you are comfortable with html and css. It will really make the learning bit alot easier when you realise you have done something wrong, and need to change your design on alot of pages. An example of this would be having one single file that contains the html of your header for instance, then including that file on all of your pages. That way when you need to change your header, you only need to change one file, instead of every single page that uses your header
Hope that helps!
O and p.s. Make use of this forum like they say in the book, it helps!