If you have ever been anywhere, you probably know these books and you more or less know what to expect. Although, to my dismay, Lonely Planet tries to standardize their books as much as possible, not all books are the same, and I am happy to say that the Central Asia book is one of their better offerings.
There are a lot of things I dislike about Lonely Planet: the upbeat, pseudo-poetic, over-edited language, the lack of opinions, the move to mainstream upmarket tourism. Basically, after they went corporate with the BBC takeover, the company lost their balls. But a little bit of balls has been preserved in Central Asia. Probably because it is not such a touristy area, the book doesn’t sell millions, and head office doesn’t feel the need to give too many suggestions, leaving it up to the writers to suggest what makes it into the book. Good!
The book covers Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Obviously, with so many countries, a lot is left out. The 3 main ones, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, each get 40+ pages, the 3 minor nations get 20+ pages of attention. If you are not planning to really explore a country, it’s usually enough. If you don’t think so, check out another guidebook. Or find out things for yourself.
Regardless, in this limited space, it does a good job. You get information on history and culture, some movies and music to check out and a little language guide. The practical information is generally solid, although I noticed on occasion that the new 2011 update didn’t bother to double-check all of the facts of the last version properly. But overall it’s good. Of course stuff like accommodation, visas and train schedules gets outdated soon, but for that you have this site. The book offers a good mix between culture and explanations about activities like hiking, horse riding, cycling etc. Some trekking routes are briefly explained.
Conclusion: I am not a fan of LP in general and I would never recommend one of their guides to a popular place like Thailand or Italy. However, if you are planning an overland trip and don’t have the money or space to stock up on 6 different guidebooks, you should get this book (if only for the simple reason that there is no real alternative). Trust me when I say it will come in handy. It offers enough practical information to get you around Central Asia and it points you to the best things to do and see while giving some solid background info in the process. If you know how to read between the lines of promo-talk, this is an excellent travel guide to Central Asia for the broadly interested traveler.