I love this book. I have owned it for a long time, having purchased it more than 15 years ago. I ordered it without knowing terribly much about his work or the book itself.
The examples of his early work presented here are magnificent. The publication quality is very high. The book and the images within it are quite beautiful. It presents his earliest work using a Leica camera in Europe and Mexico. It includes some remarkable images that are not well known, including alternate versions of some of his most famous images. These series help to illuminate his working method and the aura of mystery he is able to distill within a single frame.
Many of these works explore concepts related to surrealism as well as documenting social conditions related to urban and rural poverty, middle-class rituals, unconventional behavior, and other scenes capturing people outside mainstream society.
The book is essentially an exhibition catalog from a show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. The introductory essays are excellent and provide a great deal of personal and artistic background on Cartier-Bresson, including some early examples of his forays into painting.
I continue to return to this book repeatedly to revisit the images. I have posted a few photographs of Cartier-Bresson's work in my Flickr photostream, including several from this book. They can be viewed at [...].
The image that I have titled "Cartier-Bresson -- hair" is the photograph on the cover of the book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in black and white photography, spontaneous shooting, the history of photography, or Cartier-Bresson's emergence from experimental photography into photojournalism.