While it’s not the only tarot book on the market, The Ultimate Guide to Tarot is a fantastic beginner resource for learning the card meanings and basic correspondences in the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) system. It is apparent that Liz Dean has put a fair amount of thought into this book, not only in its content but also its visual presentation. 

Layout and Feel

A place that this guide to tarot shines is in the presentation. The binding is nice. The cover is vibrant, the pages are tick and have a slight sheen to them. The whole book printed in color and every card is given in a large, full-color illustration.The illustrations are all from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, and so they will be familiar to most.

The Opening Chapters

Ultimate Guide to Tarot, (c) Fair Winds.
The Ultimate Guide to Tarot,
(c) Fair Winds.

The book has three introductory chapters that introduce the tarot, show how to begin reading (e.g. cleansing a deck and shuffling). amd give layouts. These are brief chapters, but they are useful. If anything, I do wish she had devoted a little more time to layouts at the start. However, she actually gives a layout for each major arcana card and also has a completely separate book that is focused only on layouts. So, I feel that she has more than adequately accounted for this aspect or reading cards in the end.

The Meat and Potatoes

The rest of the book is devoted to the tarot cards themselves, starting with the majors and then going through each suit. The cards in the major arcana all have basic outlay of information. This includes a quick key of information, intro, some astrological information, a section on that card in the kabbalah, and the upright and reversed meanings. She also then provides a section on the symbols in the card  and the spread. Most cards also have a box with additional information, which is often some historical facts. The information for the major arcana cards usually spans about five pages and is nicely laid out.

The minor arcana is arranges by suits and also give a key of basic information, an introduction and the upright and reversed meanings. There is less information here, but that is understandable. Each of these cards gets about one-and-a-half to two pages of text. 

I find Dean’s interpretations of the cards’ meanings to be standard enough to guide any new reader. They are a little light in tone and content, but this makes sense for a book of this level. All told, they do provide enough for a new reader to grasp each card effectively. 

All the Extras

I really enjoy the tables at the beginning of each section and, especially, in the appendices. These are all well thought of and clearly done. These tables are worth it for any beginner to have on hand. 

That said, I do wish there was a little more set up for some of the information provided, especially in the major arcana. There are sections and even tables about astrology, chakras, crystals and kabbalah but there is little introductory information about what each of these things is and how it can help a reader. For instance, kabbalah is mentioned in the intro briefly, with the major arcana, and there is even a trea of life diagram in the appendices. The tree of life diagram contains brief explanations of all of the sephirots. However, the book does not give a full explanation of what the tree of life is and how it relates to kabbalah or to the other sections. It does not even name the sephirots as “sephirots” except in a picture caption.


The rest of the book is excellent for providing basic meanings to a fairly inexperienced or intermediate tarot reader. The basics are all accounted for and the book gives a taster menu of what else there is to come. It does so without delving too deeply into any one area. As such, I do not expect this to be a book that gives a deep dive into kabbalah, for instance. However, I do wish that those topics were maybe slightly better introduced to bridge a reader into more advanced books. Even so, I thoroughly recommend this book for those new to the RWS system who want a book that givs good basic information in a way that is not at all intimidating.

Book Specs

Title: The Ultimate Guide to Tarot
Author: Liz Dean
Page Count: 240
Publisher: Fair Winds Press/Quarto, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59233-657-9
Availability: Amazon

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