My first impression was it looked more akin to a coffee table book than anything suitable for an academic module. The old saying stood true, however, never judge a book by its cover. The high production values are a wonderful change from dusty tomes and the regular inclusion of photographs, paintings and illustrations are actually remarkably helpful. The size does mean that I'm less likely to study with it in the library but staying at home for the chapters that need covering affords much more satisfactory tea breaks. Aldrich includes chapters from noted historians within the topic, covering a large time and geographical scale. The contributions are fantastic - I have no qualms about using them for an essay or exam for a tutor with very high standards. They introduce the reader to the subject matter, providing a narrative framework to build on, whilst also considering the methodological issues behind the period and within the historiography. It does feel as though there is a gap on geographically determined chapters. Although the last two chapters do consider the topic in non western cultures, they're dealt with broadly. There's also a gap for comparison between Britain and America as an explicit chapter. However, the book is sizeable and by no means lacking in content. These last comments feel a little like pedantry.
The book seems torn between a coffee-table book (it certainly looks and weighs like one) and an academic study. It is not a very pleasant position and anyone who takes it is bound to end up worse for wear because meeting the expectations connected with the two quite distant genres is simply impossible. This is an introduction into gay and lesbian history. There are better, better researched, more in-depth and more detailed studies but you have to start somewhere, and it is better do so with a large overview like this one. Some can start from Foucault and take it from there but they are quite few while most readers will find Foucault sufficiently offputing never to try to approach gay and lesbian history again. This is a book aimed at those average readers. It is for them that it takes an approachable form with clear division of material and a large number of colourful illustrations. It is also for them that it tries to simplify certain issues (but providing an ample bibliography so anyone not quite satisfied should know where to look for more). One thing must be stressed - this an extremely universal study that goes beyond the limits of the Western world both in descriptions of the present state of gay and lesbian universe and in its attempts to present its past. If only for that it is a book well worth buying and reading.
I'm still working my way through this tome. A good read, some chapters are easily digestable than others as some have a dry quite academic quality to them. But very informative about gay history and placing in a developmental context. Thank god our position has progressed!
Gay Life and Culture is by far the best all round introduction to the gay experience in pubication at this moment in time. It also has a great bibliography to each of the various areas under consideration so that you can explore the subject area in far more depth.