I have been to Tuscany and northern Italy several times in recent years, and have been fortunate to have enjoyed extended stays where I could really get out and about and put a travel book to the test. On my last trip, I took along "Frommer's Florence, Tuscany and Umbria", and was very pleased with it.
It has been said that a travel guide isn't really useful until you have already been to the destination and so know what the content in the guide is really about. It's tough to read a guidebook at home, about a culture or country you have not been to before, and not have your eyes glaze over with facts and figures and histories that may not be meaningful for you until you are there, or you have been there, for context. I had previously visited and already knew many of the places and details in Tuscany and Umbria. But I found the Frommer's Guide to be both concise, helpful, reasonable in its recommendations and well organized. Most of all it was balanced, and I agreed with its content and descriptions of many things that I already felt I knew, and I was pointed towards new things that I had passed by or not known about despite earlier visits. It genuinely enriched my trip.
Of course, when you are talking about classic destinations like Tuscany, or Provence, or Paris or London and so forth, all guidebooks are pretty much recycling the same points of interest and history. You could probably take a guide book from the 19th century and have much the same basic core information about monuments, art and architecture. The evolution in guidebooks has been about presentation, greatly enhanced by new means of laying out and illustrating books, about the personal, modern readers seem to want a much more intimate and personal account of what might lay ahead, and about the depth of recommendations for restaurants and hotels which have exploded in number and variety.
First, I never look to travel guidebooks for recommendations on restaurants, other than to know that there may indeed be one at this and that street or square. Restaurants are notoriously subjective experiences. A tradition minded reviewer may love a restaurant or cafe because it has classic regional food, well done, but a visitor may feel it's boring tourist fare and nothing could make it worthwhile. Some reviewers may like spicy food, but don't describe food as such, and a tender tongued visitor recoils in horror at the tastes. A reviewer may try to go foodie and be adventurous, the visitor may feel they have been duped into something bizarre, over rated and over priced. And so on and so forth. A great restaurant with a good chef last year may have changed owners and have a mediocre chef this year. Many of the complaints, sometimes vociferous, that you read on-line about ALL travel guidebooks come down to the visitor's feeling about the reliability of the restaurant reviews. All that said, I have found the Frommer's food reviews and restaurant lists to be generally reliable pointers to a good meal. But that's all any guidebook can do when it comes to a restaurant recommendation, point.
As for maps, the Frommer's Guide has the maps you need for the region and for key towns. The maps are clear and well labeled and of great use in planning your day and program. But it would be foolish to go to a new and complex destination with just the maps in a guidebook, any guidebook, or to hope that you could find a good map after arrival. I would recommend the Streetwise Florence map in particular.
The list of festivals is especially helpful, and are a good start on following up with a search for info about specific events from on-line sources. To search for it you first have to know it exists, so the Frommer's Guide is both a useful tool for actually going to the festivals and for starting to find out more about them.
Food, wine, art, architecture, museum, shopping, hill town, markets and history info is all concise, is fair minded without too much hyperbole, and is well laid out in attractive pages that read easily. The writing is not, I am happy to say, afflicted with the sort of cheeky Brit speak and word play that seems so tedious and childish in so much recent British travel writing.
Mind you, I said the guide was "concise". Tuscany and Umbria are wide ranging and complex subjects. I am sure that some may find fault that some point, inclination or perspective may have been omitted. But as a solid guide to take on your trip to Italy this guide can't be beat, and I say that after years of Rough Guides, Lonely Planets, Fodor's etc.
Frommer's books are, generally speaking, to this traveler and reviewer, clearly better than the superficially beautiful Eyewitness guide books that manage to be both very light on real info while weighing a ton due to the heavy glossy paper used and the amount of square footage per page given over to images and graphics.
Is "Frommer's Florence, Tuscany and Umbria" perfect? What is? It is after all what a small group of expert humans thought worth saying and presenting to a very wide and varied audience of demanding and sometimes anxious readers looking for info about something that they have not seen or experienced before while being anxious and pressed for time, usually, while visiting the destination.
But I think it's a great guide book, especially as I could compare its merits with what I knew to be the facts on the ground from past trips. I plan to have it with me again on my next trip, and would suggest the same for you. RECOMMENDED.