This book was tailor made for our trip, which was for 3 weeks, hitting 8 major cities. It was useful for planning as well as a take-along guide. We traveled by train, and the book was great for "getting our heads in the game" for the next stop. The pictures are rich with detail, including cut-away views of many historical structures like castles and cathedrals. The historical synoptic narratives are extremely well written, delivering maximum information in the space available. The quality of the paper is impeccable, with a glossy finish and gorgeous colors.
My 13-year old daughter, unexpectedly and unprompted, devoured the book during the train rides. She set aside her DVD player and forty or so movies, and focused on the book - day, after day, after day. She never watched a movie on the trains. When she finished studying the section on our next city, she moved outward in the book to other features of the country. She would go back and forth between the various city descriptions, the country maps, and the map of Europe. We would go into museums, and she would point out pictures she had seen in the book. Eventually, she had carefully looked over every page of the book and read far more than just what was relevant to our destinations. She probably reread the section on Anne Frank 10 times, even though we didn't get to Amsterdam and she has already read two books on the subject. Tomorrow morning, a Saturday with me off work, she and I are going to sit down together and go through the book, tabbing the sections that cover places we went. At the expense of sounding schmaltzy, I expect it will be a sentimental keepsake for the rest of her life.
This is a great book for early planning, especially if you haven't decided on which cities to visit. On the other hand, if you've already made up your mind and you are visiting fewer than four cities, this is probably not the book for you - you wouldn't buy an encyclopedia if you only wanted to read three articles. Buying the book early can give you time to buy a more focused book for cities where you find you need more information.
The binding on the book will appear somewhat unusual if you're unfamiliar with this publisher as I was. Sitting on a bookshelf, it looks like a hardbound book in a colorful dust jacket, even though there is no removable jacket at all. In fact, it is sort of a hybrid between a paperback and a hardbound book. The cover is actually vinyl: solid but flexible and looks and feels almost like it is plastic coated. The cover extends above and below the pages like a hard cover. One negative is that it is fairly heavy for a relatively small book. This is because of the 800, full-color, glossy pages in a book that is less than 1.25 inches thick. The other dimensions are roughly 8.5 X 5.25.
I'm sorry, but I've got to take a shot at some of the negative reviews. Some criticized a lack of depth. What do you expect with 20 countries covered in 800 pages and content split between pictures, historical narrative, and touring advice that gets all the way down to restaurants and shopping? This book is a careful compromise between breadth and depth. (Our next trip will be to only three cities, and we'll buy more focused books then.) Frankly, I don't see how the publishers could have crammed more information into such a compact space. To the fellow who said the only Eastern European country covered was Czechoslovakia: (1) it's the Czech Republic, and (2) are Hungary and Poland not part of Eastern Europe? To the person who said the maps were not useful, I have to point out that maps that can actually help navigation typically can't fit on pages this small. What do you want, 200 foldout maps in an 800 page book?
BTW, we brought along a set of maps that we had bought online. Surprisingly to us, we ended up mostly relying on the free ones available in the three, four, and five star hotels we stayed in. We never failed to get a good map from a hotel front desk or concierge. Even after all the preliminary study (also, my wife and I had been to most of the cities before), we often asked for suggestions on sites and several times made some new discoveries that way. We brought along a Garmin GPS, but used it very little because we were on foot, and the Garmin instructions used street names while the streets were often unmarked. (Try looking on the sides of buildings for street names.)
Bottom Line: You are investing a significant amount of money, time, and sweat equity in your trip. While it isn't cheap as books go, in the greater context of trip expenses, this book is practically free. Probably the most significant cost is the weight allowance it eats up. (Put it in your carry-on; the airlines haven't started weighing those yet.) In the uses that I've described, it can significantly enhance your experience. When you get back, it will look good on your bookshelf. If you are still deciding on which cities to go to, or if you are going to more than a few cities, buy this book. You'll thank yourself, again and again, just as I thanked my wife.
Bon voyage ..... buon viaggio ..... ibuen viaje ..... and, lest we forget, ..... gute fahrt!