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> I'm just looking at LUA for the first time.  It seems like a great
> tool for an embedding language for other programs.  I'm wondering if
> it's also useful as a full-blown scripting language in the vein of
> Perl or even shell scripting.
you bet! i am doing all my tools scripting in Lua now...

> The language does not seem to include many "high level" constructs
> for dealing with directories, etc., so these are probably covered in
> additional libraries.  Are these delivered in some uniform manner, or
> do most people just create their own routines for these tasks?
have a look at the list of addons:
specifically at the posix lib listed there:
(assuming you're on Unix - there is no posix lib for Win32 yet)

There are also some "shells", that may be easier to start with (no need to
embed Lua in your own program):
NTLua -
LuaCmd (both Unix and Windows) -