For what it claims it is, namely, "an introduction," Tovee's book provides a comprehensive, clear, and easy-to-understand tour through the start to end of our visual system.
Overall, if you are looking for an informative, yet entertaining as opposed to overly pedagogical introduction into how our visual system works, this is the book to go with. The manner it goes about teaching is lucid and easy to follow; it begins with any preliminary explanations before moving onto the successive topic, starting with how light and the eye works (actually how we can know all these things) up to how the brain processes information and the consequential effects. Thus, the reader should not feel as there are any major gaps in his understanding of the material. With that said, this is just an introduction, and so as opposed to a college textbook, which tries to explain as much as possible about as much as possible, this book sticks to the more general ideas. For example, it does explain the general structure of cells and photoreceptors, but as opposed to some college textbooks I've read, it doesn't go into the atomic or genetic explanation of how everything is made (it does mention the major proteins that are used but only in name and general function). The essential details are mentioned, as well as the essential details in explaining the essential details. Or in another way of putting it, all the essential details to neuroscience are mentioned. Further, the language and tone is casual and easy-to-approach; Tovee does not merely regurgitate facts and expect you to memorize them all. Rather, he always gives clear examples of what something means and entails. Thus every idea becomes easily conceptual to understand.
The book follows a logical progression of how our visual experience works:
1. It beneficially begins by giving an account of the analysis methods we have used to determine all this information, that is, it lets you know how and why we know what we know. It also gives a very brief, overall picture of the gross anatomical structures of the brain.
2. Gross anatomy of the eye and what parts do what. It also mentions related phenomena to the subject, such as what eye-disorders happen if something goes wrong.
3. The genetics and theories of colour vision - how and why we can see.
4. An overview of the major parts of the visual system in the brain and what each area generally does, as well as how the areas function and communicate with each other and overall.
5. A more detailed description of the Primary Visual Cortex.
6. Visual Development - the biological effects of various nurturing scenarios.
7. The Colour constancy problem - what it is, possible explanations, and possible repercussions
8. Object Perception and recognition - from the technical details of the image on the retina to how it is processed/encoded by the cells and brain areas. Also related subtopics and problems under object perception
9. Facial recognition - why it is particularly important and how it works.
10. Motion perception
11. Brain and Space - the makeup/constituents of a visual image
12. A summary of it all, as well as more repercussions/problems still faced
Further, each chapter has a very concise summary of the key points.
Although there are lucid, easily-conceptual explanations of phenomena, not many details are overly emphasized, whether or not they are particularly important. That is, the author mentions them once in a thorough account, but does not mention the particular importance of a subject. For example, the idea of ocular dominance is mentioned only briefly, despite the larger importance of such a theory. Still, one has to give credit in the authors illuminating explanation of not just technical anatomy but also discussion of the related-phenomena of something. For example, he devotes several pages to describing the mechanics and effects of monocular/binocular deprivation. In making topics relatable, there are many interesting studies mentioned and the important consequential ideas of such studies. For example, in chapter 2 it is mentioned that one suggestion as to why we do not notice our blinks is that visual perception is suppressed during a blink. The author continues, "Evidence for this suggestion comes from an ingenious experiment by Volkman and his colleagues. The eyes lie directly above the roof of the mouth, and a bright light shone on the roof will stimulate the retina whether or not the eyes are closed. Volkman found that the light intensity required to stimulate the retina during a blink is five times greater than at any other time, strongly suggesting that there is suppression of perception during blinking." Most helpfully, the author in bringing up a new topic first gives the general definition of something, then what it means in more exact ideas, and then the technical reasons for why it happens, and finally implications and/or problems that arise. For example, on p. 39, "In 1802, Thomas Young correctly proposed that the human eye detected different colours because it contained three types of receptor, each sensitive to a particular hue. His theory was reffered to as the trichromatic (three colour) theory. It suggested that for a human observer any colour could be reproduced by various quantities of three colours selected from various points in the spectrum, such as red green, and blue. However, it has long been thought that there are four primary colours: red, green, blue, and yellow." He then goes on to a more thorough explanation of these theories. The pages are filled with illuminating diagrams of the important details just described. I personally find these sorts of diagrams more helpful/informative than just a photo taken from real life, as the labels are very helpful to me, although there are NO actual pictures taken from real life in the book. What I like most is the flow of ideas mentioned, especially in introducing an idea. For example, "the P pathway [with information about colour and shape] splits to produce two new pathways in the upper layers of V1. One pathway seems to deal primarily with colour and this is called the P-B pathway," which is followed by a more detailed description of the pathways.
I would say this is a must-have for anyone interested in neuroscience and the visual system at any level. Whether for the dilettante who wants to have a general yet comprehensive understanding of how our visual experience works, to the student who needs a concise conceptualization of things, to anyone who wants to just reinforce this material. This book is best read in a chronological manner, as topics don't necessarily build off one another (as in, you need to have read the preceding information to understand the current information), but rather just flawlessly follows from one another. By reading in this manner, it is easier to see the function and importance of a topic. However, one can turn to any page and get a helpful understanding of something (for example, upon turning to a random page, I read, "Althouh many neurons in V1 do respond to lines and bars, the optimal stimulus is a sine-wave grating (De Valois, Albrecht & Thorell, 1978). A sine-wave grating looks like a series of fuzzy, unfocused parallel bars. Along any line perpendicular to the long axis of the grating, the brightness varies according to a sine-wave fuction."). Plus, at only 179 pages, with many pictures in between, it is a pleasantly short, easy-to-read book.