This is an updated version of the original 2001 Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide. It contains new artwork on the dust jacket, and 16 pages of new material contributed by Matthew K. Manning, who doesn't get a credit on the front cover (presumably so as not to subtract from Tom DeFalco's high-profile name).
The book is the same format from the front - 10.5" x 11.0" hardback with a nice dust jacket. The 168 pages has been increased to 184 to accommodate the extra content. None of the original pages seemed to have been touched at all, they still provide exactly what they always did.
What is that exactly? Well, you get a summary of the key events of standard Spidey continuity from his origins through to the 90's. Most of the key topics are covered, and most of the key villains. A lot of the interesting plot points are mentioned, and a good effort is made to give a consistent sense of continuity. Spidey's powers are described in good detail.
It's important to understand that this book is not intended to provide the same level of completist detail as the recent Handbooks or even the Marvel Encyclopedia (Vol. 4) Spider-Man. Many interesting stories and characters are omitted, with the intent instead of giving proper space for stories which tie together well. This book works best as a guide for a new Spider-Man reader wanting to easily get a reference point for key past plots, allowing them to come up to speed as quickly as possible and get the maximum enjoyment out of the current stories.
The focus is on the Spidey comics - the movie isn't really mentioned at all, despite the convenient timing of the book's release. The new material in the book is an extra two pages on Ultimate Spider-Man, plus the key events of the 2000's including the updates on Norman Osborn and Otto Octavius, and the new Venom. Also recent characters such as Ezekiel and Morlun get a profile.
Then of course there's coverage of The New Avengers, "The Other", The Iron Spider, and finally a mention of Spider-Man Unmasked as in Civil War. The final result is to bring this book nicely up to date.
As mentioned, this book is no substitute for the Encyclopedia or the Handbooks, you'll easily find space for both on your bookshelf. But it does provide a great introduction for those looking for a helping hand to catch up on near-fifty years of Spider-Man back history.
I'm a little disappointed that none of the earlier material seems to have been updated. I'm sure that there are recent events affecting the Black Cat, Flash Thompson and other various characters that would have justified an update. Heck, Aunt May's section didn't even get an update to mention that he discovered Peter's identity (before it was generally revealed).
I guess I can understand that. The publisher's wanted to get the book out before the film, and updating the existing material would have been a painful job. Far easier just to make an editorial decision not to touch what Tom had already done.
I gave the original 4.5 webs. I'm going to dock half a web from that for the two rather disappointing editorial decisions - firstly not to update the existing material, and secondly not to give new writer Matthew K. Manning a credit on the front cover. Sure I understand the reasons for both, but it's disappointing regardless.
Regardless, four webs is still a respectable rating, and this is still a very worthy book at a very reasonable price.