The Essential Catholic Handbook is an excellent starter book for all of those unfamiliar with the Catholic church and/or catholic doctrine. The premise of catholic theology is presented in a very simple and brief format. Then it is followed up with an excellent description of each of the seven sacraments. Included in this book is a lovely catholic prayer guide and an immensely useful dictionary of catholic terms. Finally, this book is made even more useful by being extensively referenced to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
My only complaint about this book is that in one place, where catholic obligations are covered, it is said that parents are obligated to have their children attend parochial school. That is untrue. Parents are required to provide education, academic and religious, to their children, but in whatever form they choose.
Because this is a beginners book, long time catholics may find little useful. A fresh copy of the catechism would probably suit them better. Teachers of religious education will find much usefulness in this volume. Certainly this work will do much to dispel the many myths about the official teaching of the church that are prevalent both outside of the church and within our own religious ed. programs. I urge RCIA directors to give or at least suggest this book to all in your program.
Some reviewers have complained that this book is too conservative. It should be pointed out that there is not really such a thing as being conservative or not. The church has it's beliefs and teachings. There is a set of proscriptions about how the faithful should live their lives. Because someone does not agree with them does not change anything. Failing to abide the teachings of the church does not create something called liberal or new catholicism. It simply means that you are failing to behave as a catholic in accordance with the teachings of the church.
This is a wonderful book that discusses the Catholic Faith in great detail. It is very user friendly in format, and I believe it will be enjoyed by any buyer. The first section goes into great detail with the beliefs of Catholics, which is supported by the Bible and the Catechism. The second part describes the biblical beliefs of Catholics by displaying the commandments, defines some of our beliefs, instructs the new or converting Catholic how to do things, and displays the Beatitudes established by Christ. Section three gives a large list of basic and devotional prayers of Catholics, while sections four and five define Vatican II and list its documents. Section six defines, in great detail, terms that you might hear when in a Catholic Church, and lastly section seven lists the Calendar of the Saints.
It is a wonderful book for anyone wanting to expand their beliefs on the church.
If you enjoy this book, I reccomend the Essential Catholic Prayer Book, published by the same company, which goes into greater detail with Catholic Prayers. God Bless!