This book provides a readable, self-contained, description of the evolution of vertebrates. I think it's a great book.
The main purpose of the opening two chapters is to provide background material for the rest of the book. The first shows how vertebrates fit into the tree of life. Enough embryology is presented to define deutrostomes. The only phylum considered in any detail is, not surprisingly, chordata. Some other phyla are described, but this is done mainly to show how they relate to chordates. This chapter is brief but lucid. The following chapter presents material on fossil excavation, cladistics and the fossil record.
After this introductory material the book progresses to its main topic. The approach is roughly chronological. As usual the focus is, for the most part, on the animals that were dominat in that time. For instance amphibians aren't considered after rise of amniotes and reptiles aren't considered after the Mesozoic.
The first topic covered is fish from the Paleozoic, at least through the Devonian period. The material is pretty much what one would expect: jawless fish, the origin of jaws, armour-plated fish, early sharks, bony fish, lung fish and a mass extinction of fish that occurred in the late Devonian. There is a chapter later in the book that covers fish evolution from the end of the Paleozoic. It treats the evolution of sharks and bony fish in more detail.
An outline of the remaining content is: amphibians, early amniotes (my favorite chapter covering synapsids/diapsids/anapsids), dinosaurs and reptiles from the Mesozoic, birds, mammals and finally a chapter on human evolution.
Each chapter begins with a list of "key questions" that will be addressed. This was useful both in providing a preview of the material to come and in providing a review of what was covered. The coverage in each chapter went along the lines of describing important genera, descriptions of how the various species made their way in the world, cladograms (of varying granularity), anatomical diagrams, photos of fossils and descriptions of important finds. One very nice feature is that some important concepts were explained in great detail, like the digits that birds have lost or how reptilian jaw bones evolved into important parts of the mammalian inner ear. Another nice feature is that the author makes it clear where there are controversies among paleontologists and explain where the weight of the evidence leads.
Aside from the main text some other good aspects of the book are that if gives lots of references (including some available on-line), the bibliography references a lot of good books and there is an appendix that gives a reasonably detailed classification of the vertebrates.
The book covers quite a lot of material in a surprisingly small number of pages, slightly less than 400 pages in the main text. I think more than enough background material is included in the book for non-specialists. However prior exposure to natural selection would be useful, although any likely readers probably have more than sufficient knowledge. Obviously any of the individual topics, like dinosaur evolution or human evolution, are considered in more detail in specialized texts. Given the vast amount of potential material I thought the level of detail was very good.