This is a fairly good introduction to the Chinese writing system providing insight into its origins and current use. While the calligraphic representations of the modern forms of the characters may be somewhat off, much of the background information is fine. The romanisation system is the officially recognised pinyin romanisation scheme developed by Russian and Chinese linguists during the 1930s and updated in the 1950s; it is generally employed in the transliteration of Standard Chinese into Latin letters. There is no need to worry over what 'dialect' the transliterations belong to because the vast majority of any given publication concerning China and the Chinese language will be in Standard Chinese, the national normative based on Northern Chinese. There are seven to eight Chinese languages with a myriad of dialects each, and it would be illogical to favour the others over the national standard. With regards to the evolution of characters, the sources from which the author bases the evolution is explained in the background information towards the front. I would recommend this as a wonderful coffeetable book, art book, and general introduction to the Chinese writing system, but not as an ultimate foundation in learning the Chinese script. If one is seriously interested in learning good handwriting, I recommend Johan Bjorksten's «Learn to write Chinese characters» from the Yale Language Series. It's inexpensive and perhaps even more useful than the volume on sale here. Both books use pinyin romanised Standard Chinese -- and usually with the tones noted, too! Most books, unfortunately, tend to leave them out. Bjorksten's work should be used as a supplement to a full on course in Standard Chinese (biaozhun hanyu... or, as many may say, putonghua); however, it can stand alone for those who are simply curious about the writing system itself and would like an appliable introduction.
I was ecstatic to find this book! It is more than just a dictionary reference with cut-and-dry Pin Yin to English translations. For each of the 214 radicals, you get a nice story explaining the history of the radical along with illustrations of the character's evolution from ancient pictographs to its current form. There is also a step-by-step demonstration on how the strokes are arranged including what order and what stroke (if they do not already come naturally to you). And if all that weren't enough, each page has short list of characters that use a particular radical so you can see the radicals in action. This book is definitely useful if you are fascinated by the cultural depictions in traditional Chinese writing. You will be learning things even literate Chinese folks don't know. However, this book probably won't help you much if you are an absolute beginner. For best results, you should at least have a working knowledge to build off of.