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You are correct, Flex does not natively connect to any database. Further, security restrictions on both the browser and the Flash Player prevent access to *any* client resources, such as the filesystem.
So if you use standard Flex, you will need some back-end web technology. This can be almost any platform/language you choose.
AIR has SQLLite database built-in.
AIR is currently in public Beta. I do not know what will be available as far as non-commercial or educational licensing when it is realeased.
I don't have a book to recommend, but here is a partial list of on-line resources:
Flex 2.x Resources
http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flex/ DEVNET - start here!
Flex style Explorer:
Thanks you are a star. It sounds perfect for what I am trying to achieve.