|Let me give my reservations first:|
1. The book has no bibliography and no notes at all.
This means that when the author says, for instance, that the "synagogue itself seems to have come into existence during the Exile", he gives you absolutely no way to evaluate what "seems to" means. Probably? Almost certainly? The preponderance of scholarly opinion? Does "seems to" mean that the institution might pre-date the Exile, or be more recent? No way to tell, and you're completely on your own for follow-up research.
2. The author often gives one explanation for a phenomenon without explaining that there are others.
For example, the author states, without qualification, that "Maccabeus means 'the hammer'". He neglects to explain that "hammer" is only one explanation for Judah the Maccabee's famously cryptic epithet. It might mean the "commander", or be a family name, or a statement of the uniqueness of God, or (my favorite) maybe it's better translated as "hammerhead" -- Israel describes most of its heroes as physically beautiful, but, strikingly, not Judah. Maybe he was an ugly cuss. Again, as there are no notes, you have no way to do further research on your own.
3. I don't know about the author's frequent use of the very broad term "Bible times." The impression the book gives is that most of the cultural institutions it describes were identical for thousands of years (and may still exist among, for instance, the Bedouin), with the exception of the rule of the Romans. Maybe this is true, but the phrase "Bible times" makes me a bit nervous.
Nevertheless, I recommend this book. Its many wonderful advantages include the following:
1. Profuse illustration. Photos, maps, schematic diagrams, charts and lovely artists' reconstructions really help you get an idea of the institutions and customs described.
2. Highly readable prose, accessible to any adult reader and even older children.
3. The book is divided into thematic chapters each of which ends with a subsection entitled "Now look at your bible," in which the author shows how information from the chapter clarifies specific biblical passages.
4. Similarly, the book does contain a Scriptural Index as well as a topical Index, allowing it to function very well as a reference text.