The best short reference on each college is the Princeton Review of The Best (311) Colleges. It gives ratings of academic quality, difficulty of admission, percentage admitted, etc. There is also a brief summary of college life and what each place might be looking for.
Peterson Guide is comprehensive, and has long write-ups for each school. There is a front section for each school, listed alphabetically within each state, and a back section with detailed profiles of selected institutions.
Fiske's guide is interesting, but he basically has something good to say for each school, so careful reading between the lines and for "damning with faint praise" is called for.
The Yale Insider's Guide is extremely subjective, with different students writing various reviews. We did not find it too reliable, except in conjunction with other books.
Likewise for Barrron's Guide to the Most Competitive Colleges. Recent alumni write of their (invariably positive) experiences. Take it with a grain of salt, or read carefully between the lines.
Choosing the Right College by ISN was extremely helpful. Some readers criticized it for being allegedly right wing. We did not find it so. Rather, knowing the point of view of the authors helped us evaluate their observations. Other books do not make their biases explicit. A feature of the book we found particularly helpful was the naming of excellent professors and departments in each college.
Antonoff's College Finder was interesting only in conjunction with other books.
Three books written from the perspective of college admissions officers were very interesting and helpful. They are The College Admissions Mystique, by Mayher, Getting In, by Bill Paul, and most of all A is for Admission by Michelle Hernandez. We strongly recommend that parents and the kids who are the applicants read at least one of these.
Another very helpful book was You're Gonna Love This College Guide, by Marty Nemko. It takes the student through the decision process of big vs. small, urban vs. country, elite vs. the level just below, geography, and so forth. That really got our daughter unstuck in her thinking process.
Loren Pope is another helpful author for those who think that not getting into Harvard is the end of the world.
Three books we did not find to be particularly helpful are Getting Into Any College, by Jim Good and Lisa Lee, The National Review College Guide, by Charles Sykes and Brad Miner (too out of date), and The Real Freshman Handbook, by Jennifer Hanson.
One book we found to be unexpectedly useful was Getting Into Medical School Today, by Scott Plantz, et. al. Even if your child is not interested in medical school, this book puts college in perspective for any post-college program.
We hope readers find our review helpful.