The ideal place to learn a second language is the country where it's spoken. For Mandarin Chinese, that means either Mainland China or Taiwan. Mandarin is also spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, where it is one of several official languages.
Because of the thriving business climate, most people opt for Mainland China to learn Mandarin Chinese. Taiwan is a better choice for traditionalists, though, as it is the maintainer of Chinese arts that were persecuted during the Mainland's cultural revolution. Taiwan continues the use of the older Chinese characters, whereas the Mainland has adopted simplified characters. There are also differences between the two countries in the spoken language.
Living In Mandarin Chinese
If decide that Mainland China is your destination for learning Mandarin, Chinese 24/7 is the ideal guidebook for learning and living. It is intended for those who are living in China, offering tips and suggestions about life in Mainland China and how to navigate common topics of conversation such as greetings, asking about family, buying tickets or meals.
Due to its localized emphasis, I would recommend this book only to those who are living in Mainland China. If you are studying Mandarin in the USA or Europe, there are other textbooks and learning resources that would be better suited than Chinese 24/7.
The title of Chinese 24/7 says it all. It is intended for those who are surrounded by Mandarin 24/7, and as such, is not a good choice for short visits to China, where phrasebooks and tourist guides can provide the limited Mandarin needed to get around.
That said, Chinese 24/7 could be useful as a supplement to other Mandarin textbooks, as it contains many explanations about the language that are not found in other materials. For example, the pronunciation sections can be very helpful for clarifying the various sounds of Mandarin Chinese, such as the difference between shui and xue.
The cultural references and explanations are very useful for those living in Mainland China, and may help the Westerner achieve a better understanding of the people he or she comes in contact with on a daily basis. Since the author draws on his own experience living in China, he is able to anticipate many of the linguistic and cultural problems that confront the Westerner learner.
As would be expected from any book about Mandarin, Chinese 24/7 covers the basics such as tones, word order, common vocabulary and phrase for various situations. There are associated recordings available on the author's website.
Chinese 24/7 focuses on spoken Mandarin, with very little instruction about reading and writing Chinese characters. A section of the book called "Ditch Hanzi" explains the author's reasoning: by focusing on speaking and listening, you are following the natural order of language acquisition. Once you have a basic knowledge of the spoken language, the study of Chinese characters come more easily.
The vocabulary and phrases reflect the colloquial usage of Mandarin in China, presented in a breezy conversational tone. Chinese 24/7 is highly practical, and aims to get learners using the language immediately.
The strengths of Chinese 24/7 are also its limitations. As a guide for those living in Mainland China, it offers a lot of practical information for daily living. However, much of this information is not needed by those who are studying Mandarin in the USA or Europe. Chinese 24/7 makes a useful supplement to other materials, but should not be used on its own as a self-instruction text.
The author of Chinese 24/7 recognizes this, and includes a list of other learning materials such as dictionaries, audio material, and websites.