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I am a geological beachcomber. Whenever I walk a beach I am searching for the next significant clast, be it ancient or modern. Having enjoyed so many interesting geological successions on both sides of the Atlantic over most of the past 40 years, living in Noord-Holland with no rocks and little topography has persuaded me to look to the beach as a potential source of new geological and palaeoecological ideas and data. So I admit to welcoming The World's Beaches with open arms – I haven't been disappointed.

This is a beautifully produced book, very readable, printed on high quality paper and with numerous fine illustrations, mainly photographs, all relevant and almost all in colour. Text figures are all clear, newly drawn and, again, in colour. The illustrations are highly relevant and are particularly well integrated with the text, and captions are unusually rich in information. The text is supported by 11 pages of glossary, six pages of ‘further reading’ and an index. My only mild criticism is a very minor whinge, indeed; the book follows the modern style of having boxes (‘sidebars’) within chapters, which I find interrupt the flow of the text. Perhaps at the end of chapters might be more convenient for the reader? Certainly, I suspect I am not the only reader who finishes a chapter and then goes back looking for sidebars, whose wide range of relevant subjects – such as beach rock, sea-level rise and fulgurites – are all worthy of special consideration.

In short, Pilkey et al. have produced a particularly fine text that will appeal to a wide and eclectic readership. The basic science here is essentially geomorphological, with strong strands concerning the biological environment and the (usually negative) impact of humans. Many questions posed by the influence of humans remain unanswered, although sea level rise in the years to come will force many unsustainable situations to be resolved; the beach is an environment where engineering does no more than slow down the inexorable advance of nature. It is those who pay said engineers to slow down coastal erosion that find themselves throwing their money into the sea.

The only outright error in the book is unfortunate. On page 183, the caption to a photograph states that the subject ‘…reflects another type of feeding, in which an organism attaches itself to the clam and rasps or bores a hole to get to the soft parts.’ But these aren't predatory boreholes. The image shows a valve infested with the poriferan boring Entobia isp., a dwelling trace, and the shell has very numerous perforations as is usual with a sponge infestation. A predatory boring, if successful, would be solitary. Yet a similar infestation is correctly identified as sponge borings on page 205.

The target audience is any interested natural scientist, professional, student or amateur, with an interest in beaches. It could be used as a text for an undergraduate course in the environmental sciences, as a reference to explain beach phenomena or – dare I say it – as a coffee table book for the geomorphologically inclined. The visual appeal of the book is considerable and little of importance in the text is not illustrated, so a careful reader will receive a particularly well-enriched set of data and even the ‘skimmer’ will be educated. I again emphasise that The World's Beaches is particularly well produced, even beautiful, and is likely to appeal to a wide audience. It deserves to become a classic.