First a little background about me. I have decided to learn shorthand because I thought it would be a useful skill. I bought this book to learn shorthand by myself through self study. I haven't bought this book for a secretarial course, and I'm not a secretary/journalist, or seeking to become one. Accordingly while I want to be able to read and write shorthand quickly, my requirements may differ from yours.
Great book, composed of twenty units and five appendices. Each unit deals with a topic; ie unit 1 is straight downstrokes, unit 2 is curved strokes etc. The book is well written, no fluff, just clear instructions. The author immediately begins to introduce the reader/learner to vowels (a and e) in the first unit and to some 'short forms' (frequently used words, such as 'to', 'but', 'it' and 'do' which can be expressed in shorthand by a single sign or abbreviated outline). The effect is that you feel like you're making immediate progress without becoming overwhelmed. New short form phrases are introduced in each unit. At the end of each unit is a 'theory check'. This consists of ten longhand words (covering the new material in the unit) for you to transcribe into shorthand. The correct answers are listed in the back of the book. The book also contains a simple, but I think effective, study plan and 'practice dictations' in each unit. More on these 'practice dictations' below.
A note on the 'Key' books. I didn't buy either of the key books. I don't think these are necessary. Let me explain my reasoning. Each unit contains a few lines of shorthand under the headings 'reading and writing practice', 'short form and phrasing practice' and 'practical dictation'. I think that the idea is to read this shorthand into a dictaphone and then play it back to yourself and take the dictation in shorthand. Thereby practicing both reading and writing shorthand quickly. There is no 'longhand' answer/translation provided in the book for these exercises and presumably that's what the 'Key' books are for. However I don't think the 'Key' is necessary because (1) this practice only contains stroke forms and short forms covered in that unit or previous units, and (2) making the effort to translate them yourself is essential to learning. While it could be argued that it would be nice to use the 'Key' book to check the correctness of your translations, I don't think this is necessary. I think that not having the 'Key' is better because it forces you to do the translation by yourself. I think if I had the 'Key' I'd probably get lazy and consult it more often than I should! :)
The book has a five appendices including inter alia a list of short form phrases used in the book, and another on other useful short form phrases.
I've given this book a five star because I think it genuinely merits it.