Australian prescribers who are unfamiliar with the Australian Medicines Handbook ought to be pleasantly surprised by its many differences from standard medicines guides.

First, the book's structure is noteworthy. Preceding the individual drug monographs are discussions of drug classes, as well as overviews of clinical topics (e.g. heart failure, angina, hypertension) - thus, it is a sort of hybrid of the MIMS and Therapeutic Guidelines books. In many places, and particularly the antibiotics chapter, its recommendations concur with the latter books.

A difference from MIMS is the handbook's independence from the pharmaceutical industry. It contains no advertising and favours generic drug names in the monographs and index (although brand names and manufacturers are listed).

In general, the monographs present carefully distilled drug information at a level of detail ideal for the busy but critically-minded practitioner. They also include 'practice points' and 'patient counselling' sections, which are refreshingly practical and patient-oriented.

The book has an evidence-based flavour. There are frequent references to evidence from trials, with a consistent mindfulness of clinically relevant (rather than intermediate) end points.

Changes from past editions include monographs on newly marketed drugs and some deletions and altered indications. Also new is a long but easily navigable appendix on drug interactions.

The inclusion of more Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) information would make the AMH more useful. Although the reproduction of the PBS schedule in toto in the 1998 edition was unnecessarily detailed, I'd like to see the number of available repeats included next to quantity and PBS listing information. Restricted and authority criteria are usually included, but a reproduction of the PBS lipid-lowering drugs statement would be helpful.

Quibbles aside, the 2005 AMH continues the admirable tradition set by its predecessors. It fills a valuable niche as a source of pithy, accessible, independent and evidence-based prescribing information.