Summary: Complete is Right
Comment: Complete Shotokan Karate by Robin L. Rielly is the most complete reference for the Shotokan practitioner and a must have for the Karate-ka in general. In fact, this volume is two texts in one. But if what you are looking for is a book for the beginner to learn the fundamentals I would suggest getting Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard C. Brown's Karate: the Art of "Empty Hand" Fighting, ISBN 0-8048-1668-9.
The first part is indispensable for the Karate-ka. It gives a very detailed (that is to the extent possible) history of Karate-do, including its possible origins in India and Greece, as well as its arrival in Japan and introduction into the US. It then supplements this information with genealogical trees for the development of the four major styles of Karate-do (Shotokan-ryu, Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu, and Shinto-ryu). It also outlines the origins of Isshin-ryu, Kyokushinkai, and Kobayashi-ryu. It then describes the feudal legacy of the Samurai and its influence on Karate-do. Many Karate-do maxims are analysis in this light giving the Karate-ka a more solid grounding in the philosophical aspects of the art.
In the second part of the book whole sections are devoted to the thorough explanation of etiquette, Kumite, and Kata. This is the part of the book that is geared soley to the Shotokan practitioner. I found the section on Kata to be the most indispensable. It lists the names and origins of the most popular of Shotokan kata dividing those that originated in the Shorin-ryu from those that originate in the Shorei-ryu traditions. But my fondness foe this section (and this book as a whole) springs from the complete and thoroughly illustrated step-by-step explanations of nine Shotokan Kata. Included are Tekki Shodan, Bassai Dai, Nijushiho, and Sochin.
Topping of the book is an appendix describing the belts and ranking system and what judges look for in applicants for rank promotion. I recommend it for all Karate-ka regardless of style.
Summary: fine, but not great
Comment: Complete Shotokan Karate is a fine book, but it seems to be missing some important elements in terms of focussing on the DOING of karate rather than the sometimes over-mystified beginnings of karate. This lack of focus on fundamentals might also account for mistakes in technique that we can find in some of the photos. The feet are supposed to be rooted at all times for example, except for moments of shifting or rotation. Reilly is picking up his heels in a few of the photos. These are fundamental no-no's
Also, although martial artists would like to daydream that theirs is a venerable and ancient art traced back directly to medieval samurai that is simply not the case. Modern karate has evolved so radically from what we find in the first baby steps of this art that the two are hard to link together from any technical standpoint.
What Rielly is presenting as the complete Shotokan karate is not quite accurate. The karate here in Japan is quite different.
Summary: Direct, the information for the history of Karate' is great
Comment: Mr. Rielly was my Karate' instructor for many years. His information of Shotokan is first rate. First he trained in Japan and he has over 35 years in training and teaching. Also Mr. Rielly had the distinction of being the first in american to be awarded a 6th. degree black belt in the J.K.A. The book is for any serious student of true Karate' history and training.