I probably shouldn't be commenting on this particular book, if you actually can call it a book, because it is really a box containing two books and two maps and details a world that doesn't exist, but I have used it and have referred to it so many times during my roleplaying life that I probably should actually include it amongst the books that I have read. Anyway, this is a product (a better word to use than book) that details a fantasy world that was created by Ed Greenwood that he used for his roleplaying game. It is not strictly a competitor the the World of Greyhawk simply because it was released by the same company and used the same rule system.
I am not going to go into too many details about the product except that I have had many hours creating adventures based in this world. I was mainly drawn to the areas that were not in this particular box set because I could let my creative juices run wild. However, I have ran a number of adventures set in the main regions, which is the area known as Cormyr and the Dalelands. I also had one where an extra-dimensional army came out of Icewind Dale and was marching south on Waterdeep. However, the unfortunate curse that seemed to afflict all of my campaigns was that we could never reach a conclusion.
There are a couple of gripes that I do have with this (and pretty much any other game world, with the exception of Shadowrun): it is a world that has come out of the imagination of one man. The older that I become, and the more that I learn about the history of our world and the literature that has come out of it the less impressed I become of these worlds. I have yet to come across a world (with maybe the exception of Middle Earth, and to a much lesser extent, Westeros) that has the depth, the intrigue, and the excitement of our own history. History is a series of millions, no billions, of interrelated events that all merge and effect each other and continue to have impacts upon further events that define the world in which we live. No fantasy world has ever managed to produce the fine and intricate detail of the world in which we live.
The second major gripe is what I would call racism. Basically, why are orcs evil and why do we have to kill them whenever we see them? Okay, you might say that this is a fantasy world and it is okay, but who says orcs are subhuman? In fact, the more books that are written about orcs, and the more detail that goes into their history, their background, and their culture, the more human they become. In the end, the most that players learn about orcs is how easy it is to skewer them with a sword. Granted, there are more evil races in fantasy worlds than just orcs, but why is it that we have to create a race that simply exists to be killed by player characters? I thought we were civilised and were beyond that. Look, when European boat people first arrived in Australia we pretty much considered the natives to be little more than orcs, and we didn't even take the time to understand their culture. Instead it was covert to Westernism or die. It is all well and good to have a bunch of orc bandits raid the players, or even have an orc army go head to head with a human city, that happens in reality, but to simply treat them as sub-human creatures who only exist to be killed is, to me, little more than barbaric.