There are 26 patterns in Modern Top-Down Knitting as well as tutorials and non-knitting finishing techniques (sewing on trim, crochet, elastic cord, etc.). Half the patterns in the book can appropriately be titled knit from the "top-down": 8 dresses (3 sleeveless, 1 elbow-length, 1 short-sleeve, 1 wrap, and 2 tunics), 3 sweaters, 1 jacket, and 1 cardigan. Then there are 2 skirts (one of which definitely should not have been knitted in a dark color and then printed on matte paper) and 11 accessories (4 hats, 2 styles of arm warmers, 1 cowl, 1 wrap, 1 belt, 1 set of slippers and assorted knitted jewelry).
There are several designs that I like well enough to make the purchase price of the book worth it to me. The Soho Smocked Dress which makes use of a smocked stitch pattern to define the waist is one in particular which struck me on my first pass through the book. The styles and lines of the clothing overall have a modern look that does not cross into trendy. Numerous patterns are certainly timeless and portray a pleasing degree of urban-sophistication.
There are a couple critiques I have though. 12 patterns (almost half those in the book) use elastic cord or elastic ribbon to provide tension and pull-in areas of the knitwear, such as at necklines, hat edges, or cuffs. While I find the use of elastic an excellent design detail at times, in my opinion McGowan uses it in places instead of altering stitch patterns to provide elasticity within the knitting itself or instead of adding body shaping to the pattern. The very nature of knitting has the peculiar benefit of allowing a master designer to incorporate such design features without relying on elastic cord, a distinct advantage over working with woven fabric. There are a few patterns within the book for which elastic cord is the best choice, but for many others it seemed to me to simply be the easy solution.
My biggest disappointment though was in the beautiful dress featured on the cover: Jill's Dress. I admit that I was captivated by the seamwork featured on the dress. I saw the seamwork as a great stylistic feature that would be indicative of a interesting, innovative way to construct a dress. Instead I was slightly crestfallen to discover that the "seams" were merely crocheted directly into the fabric after the entire dress is finished; an added-after-the-fact decorative feature and nothing more. The same crochet feature is used in the Promenade Dress where a similar design element could have instead easily been incorporated into the stitch pattern itself. I have no problem with crochet being used in this manner as a decorative element, but it leaves the dress pattern itself (which is what I ultimately paid for) to be a fairly simple construction. In fact, the dress on the cover has no waist shaping at all.
There are times when elastic cord and crocheted details have their place, but McGowan's reliance on them in exchange for more sophisticated knitting techniques makes me want to suggest that this book's audience is geared more towards the beginning knitter who would like to start branching out into slightly more complex pieces.
I will probably just make the few patterns I like out of this book and then pass it on. While a decent enough publication, I do not see a place for it in the permanent library of a more knowledgeable knitter.