This week's book giveaway is in the OCAJP 8 forum. We're giving away four copies of OCA Java SE 8 Programmer I Study Guide and have Edward Finegan & Robert Liguori on-line! See this thread for details.
Yes. You don't have to use Ant, you could use an IDE. Ant has tasks to perform all the steps required to build and deploy a web app. I'd advise you learn these steps (for whatever web container you are using) manually though before automating this process with Ant. Learning one new technology at a time is easier than trying to learn them all at once.