Each entry gives statistical information--length, beam, and draft, in feet and meters; tonnage; crew and/or passenger complement; and other data, including date of commission. Then follows an essay, from a quarter-page to two pages or more, giving the history of the ship, its sometimes several changes of name and usage, and its final destiny, whether sunk, scrapped, blown up, or scuttled. One or more reference works are briefly listed at the end of each entry, with fuller data on each in the bibliography at the end.
Almost every well-known ship is here. There are entries for the historically significant HMS Beagle and Mayflower, luxury liners such as Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary, warships such as the Bismark and USS Constitution, and ships best known for disastrous voyages, such as RMS Titanic as well as Alvin, the submersible that found the Titanic wreck. Not every ship that ever sailed is included, of course. Hundreds of cruisers, submarines, troopships, and the like, on both Axis and Allied sides of World War II, are not given specific entries. However, an attempt is made to include at least one ship from each group; this is usually one that was historically important for some reason, such as the USS Maddox, a Sumner-class destroyer, which was involved in the Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964.
The section devoted to full-page or half-page colored illustrations is very fine. Many of these are paintings, since color photography is too new for most historic ships. A few of the ships that are pictured, such as the Mayflower and Columbus' Nina, are replicas. At the end of the volume is a glossary of nautical terms. There is also a listing of a hundred or so fictitious ships or boats, such as the African Queen, USS Caine, and HMS Pinafore. An extensive bibliography and an excellent index complete the work, which is highly recommended for public and academic libraries.