"The Ultimate Guide to Marathons" is an excellent marathon resource for runners. This second edition was published in 1998 with information current up through 2000. A runner using this book as a guide needs to know that in five years a lot can change for a given marathon. A good example of this is the poorly managed Lakeshore Marathon in Chicago which recently had an issue of the course being measured incorrectly and being a mile too long. Information like this would be critical in any new edition of "The Ultimate Guide to Marathons". However, if you are able to accept this potential shortcoming of slightly out of date information and use this book as exactly what the title says, a "guide", then any runner can find a lot of value in this book.
This book ranks 110 marathons from across the United States and bases the rankings on such categories as fan support, race organization, course beauty, course difficulty, and how appropriate the race is for a first time marathon runner. The description of each of the 110 marathons includes sections on the history of the race, the race course itself, what sort of awards and accommodations there are, and other details about the race. This is excellent information. While every major marathon in the country is included in these rankings (as of 1998), there are also quite a few small marathons that make the list. As a Minnesotan I was pleased to see that all four Minnesota Marathons were included (Twin Cities, Grandma's, Med City, Walker North Country) and was surprised by Med City and Walker North Country because these are small marathons. W.N.C. in particular is a trail marathon and trail races are included and ranked right along with the big ones like Boston and New York City.
There is also a listing of approximately another 50 marathons that are typically smaller than the ones included in the ranking, and are "destination marathons", but as one that I recognized (Marathon to Marathon in Iowa) is not really a destination most people would want to go to, my guess is that these are just marathons that the authors were not able to fit into their ranking and that they ran out of time to get them included. I may be wrong about that, though. Either way, it is nice to see such a listing of marathons. I am aware of other regional marathons that were not included, but I do not know when these marathons were founded.
While the information provided in this book is several years out of date, the rankings and descriptions can be used as a guide to see if this is a marathon you are interested in running. If so, I would then recommend looking online at the race's website or perhaps finding another online marathon guide to see if there are any changes or significant drops in runner participation. But this book can be used as an excellent guide to get marathon ideas and if most major marathons are not changing their course or management you can expect that the rankings would stay fairly consistent overall. That makes me happy because Minnesota had the number 2 (Twin Cities, behind only Big Sur) and the number 13 (Grandma's) marathons according to these rankings.