It begins with a general overview of ichthyology, although it is not self-contained. After a short section on Chordata and non-fish taxa, the work lists all known fish in a top-down fashion. Each family gets at least one paragraph, and usually a body outline drawing; large families have subfamilies and tribes described as well. Notable genera and species are mentioned, while the complexities of the higher taxa are described succinctly, with many references for difficult points.
The fourth edition was the first to incorporate the wide use of DNA analysis, revising many earlier classifications.
The first edition appeared in 1976, the second in 1984, the third in 1994 (John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 0-471-54713-1 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]), the fourth in March 2006 (ISBN 0-471-25031-7 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]).