It's an odd hobby, but I love to read a good guidebook even when I don't get to visit the destination. I think it's because my own writing style (for computer technology books and articles) has been strongly influenced by great travel guides and cookbooks. The best of them make you feel as though the author is standing right by your side, pointing out the things you might not notice otherwise. If I say, "Oh! I'd never have thought of that!" when I read a travel guide, I know it's going to be a good one. And it's even better when the travel guide shows some personality and gives you a peek at the authors' own values. I have kept an ancient (from 1983!) Moneywise Guide to California because Vicki Leon's described Solvang as "the gift shop kitch is so thick you can cut it with a pastry knife" and of Carmel as, "If you had a nickel for every time someone referred to Carmel as 'quaint,' you could probably afford to stay here." A good travel guide gives the reader confidence that she can see what she must, learn what those things are, and do it on her budget.
And even though I have not yet made my trip to Paris (this summer! finally!) I feel very good about giving this guidebook a 5-star review.
The basics, first. The guidebook is organized much as you would expect, with chapters devoted to The Best of Paris; Paris Today (history, when to go); Suggested Itineraries; Exploring Paris (starting with top 14 sights/attraction); Strolling Around Paris; Where to Eat; Shopping; Entertainment & Nightlife; Where to Stay; Side Trips (e.g. Versailles, Fontainebleau); Trip Planning; Useful Terms and Phrases. Most chapters are organized by neighborhood, making it easy to explore-and-eat in the same area. Every listing has the address, phone, prices, hours, and metro stop, and most include a URL; I'm surprised by how often guidebooks leave out these things.
The book's strengths that warm my heart mainly come from the authors' clear strong opinions, such as "The summer is the worst time to visit, since most Parisians flee the city while most tourists crowd into the city then." (Tough, that's when I'm going. But now I know.) It is not chamber-of-commerce writing. A restaurant review says, "It's the oldest Alsatian brasserie in town, but it's grown tired and stale over the years. Nonetheless, it's packed every night because of its stunning interior." They are also remarkably cognizant of what it's like to travel with a family. For instance, they include a restaurant recommendation for an American burgers-and-fries restaurant, for when kids (or adults) get tired of tasting new things. Small sidebars include tips ("Leaping Over the Louvre Line") and cultural asides ("Five New Wave [French] Films").
As you'd expect, the most popular destinations get plenty of explanation; the Louvre gets four full pages. The "Where to Eat" chapter is over 50 pages, organized by neighborhood, so it's pretty extensive. There are plenty of maps, including a full city map meant to be pulled out of the book.
This isn't a guide targeted at budget travelers, though it tries hard to find affordable options. And there are things I wish for (or maybe haven't found yet), like "Things to do on Sunday when just about everything seems to be closed" or "best choices for going to a laundromat" (since I'll be on the road long enough for that to be relevant). This won't be the only book I take along (I'm putting a Marling Menu-Master for France in my shopping cart, and checking several foodie books out of the library; I also expect to be grateful for the Kindle reader on my iPad), but I feel confident, now, that the five days I've devoted to Paris will be time well spent.