It is difficult to find good contemporary photography overviews -- typically, you could go to galleries or museums for several years or buy a stack of art photography books and spend days going through them -- assuming you had a strong Art background. This book offers a nice alternative and it is one of the best overviews of contemporary fine art photography available.
Aperture, a respected photography publishing house, has beautifully produced this handsome book with 80 of what they consider to be the best living and working art photographers. The selection is broad, encompasses many areas and is well organized into 7 sections from Portrait to City. Several works from each artist are presented along with a short description of an artist's Work from a curator's perspective. Even more valuable are quotations from each artist describing their Work from their perspective. This alone makes the book worth owning.
Photographers you might know; Cindy Sherman, Thomas Ruff, Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Wall, Uta Barth, Joel Sternfeld, Thomas Demand and many others are alongside people you have probably never heard of but should get to know. The coverage of the cinematic, self exploration/psychological, conceptual and to some extent digital influences presented here should be thought provoking. Clearly, the "digitalness" of photography as a medium and all that implies -- interaction and collaboration, manipulation and realism, and authenticity and authority -- is growing in importance and will no doubt be better covered in the future as those artists emerge.
There are only two omissions that would have been interesting to see included; artists such as Gerhard Richter, best known for his painting and who uses photography extensively -- and some of the newest up and comers, like Idris Khan. To be fair, those areas are rich enough to support separate books and you should not let this keep you from buying this book. Overall, this is an excellent way to quickly learn about contemporary photography and you will not be disappointed.