If you have an interest in languages, then this may well be the book for you. It deals with over 400 languages in greater or lesser detail, often giving intriguing insights into the language or people discussed. It is not a great reference work, it is not an educational text, you won't even learn any useful phrases (although you may learn to count to ten in hundreds of tongues!). But this is an excellent introduction to the variety of languages and alphabets in the world today (along with important extinct languages), and their geographical distribution. Taken for what it is, the only real criticisms of the book are the maps, which are not as clearly defined as they might be (perhaps in the interest of cost?), and the physical dimensions of the book. The hardback version is about 9 inches tall, and 5 inches thick. You need a table to read this for any length of time. Alphabetically ordered, this book is suitable for dipping in and out of as necessary, and you will find some golden nuggets of information. I bet I know of a Western European Language spoken by over 10 million people that you don't!!!
While this book serves its function as a reference work admirably, providing quick access to useful information on pretty-much any language or dialect in the world, it is equally fascinating as a book to browse. The information is certainly extensive, and seems to be reliable and unbiased. Sadly, the book is not without its faults. The typography is very poor in places - tables of correspondence between other scripts and the Roman alphabet are often misaligned so that considerable effort is required to work out what's what. The maps are extremely crude, though functional. Informative and useful though it is, this book is not a thing of beauty. Also, the book explicitly excludes languages other than naturally-evolved spoken and written languages. This means it contains nothing on sign languages, nor on synthetic languages such as Esperanto and Lojban - omissions that are a minor shame.
An accessible and totally fascinating overview of a vital subject. An insidious and delightfully dangerous book, because you will go to it for a quick reference and still be entranced by something completely different an hour later.
Fascinating book to browse, with a couple of pages given over to each of 400+ languages. With examples of different scripts, comparisons of related languages printed side by side and numerals, anyone with an interest in the subject can peruse the 700 pages for hours. Dalby includes extinct languages; from the section on Sogdian (extinct language of Uzbekistan) for example, you can compare their numerals with those of some modern languages spoken in the Pamirs and see the strong similarity. It doesnt go into any one area in depth but it gives you basic information to study further if you wish