As contrast, 4th edition is focused around selling shitty, mass-produced "official" plastic D&D miniatures.
It's the edition that everyone loves to hate, but although I admit I've ranted about it's flaws on-and-off since I started playing D&D, I still like 4e. For an experienced player, it kills the game. I always had a hard time trying to convince other people to play D&D. 4e has chapters dedicated on how to roleplay, how to write a good character background, which is something that my main system, Pathfinder, never really goes into detail on.
The adaptation of every class to an identical "power" system of at-will, daily and encounter is a good way to standardize learning the rules and applying them in play, but at the same time, there's a ton of variety in how the classes work. Feats, the key improvement of D&D 3rd edition, take a bit of a backseat to all the nifty powers, but they are a nice way to flesh out your character a bit and individualize them so that not every fighter looks alike, for example. The book looks beautiful, and it's actually a fairly readable book, which is not the standard for game manuals, but at the same time, it has a barely-functional one-page index (when it could have used something much more exhaustive) and the rules are not cross-referenced as heavily as they should be.
I've been playing D & D since the early 1980s, and though my fondness for the Tom Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons and the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons knows very few bounds one has to admit that those iterations of the game rules were arcane at best. Still, I hold to my assertion that the rules don't matter as much as the enjoyment of the group playing and because of that I consider myself "system agnostic." If I had to choose a personal preference at gun point, that continues to be the 3.5 revision of the D & D rules but I've recently run both 1st and 2nd edition AD&D games for players who had never been exposed to those rule sets, and we had a blast...
Sure, it was on the NYT Bestseller List and D&D Insider was practically a license to print money, but historically it's been remembered as the edition that betrayed the essence of Dungeons & Dragons and let Pathfinder take the lead because they had the REAL game, and Thank God 5th Edition set everything to rights. Right now the RPG field seems to take a skeptical view of things like "tactical complexity" and "balance", but, well, things may change.
Some of the changes from 3.5 to 4.0 include different starting player races and classes, the change from feats and class powers to at-will, encounter, and daily powers, a smaller and streamlined skill list, new magic item system, rituals for more power spells. Chapter two is character creation, which includes generating ability scores, alignment, good and unaligned deities, example personality traits, mannerisms, appearance, background, and basic languages. Chapter Three lists the character races. Each entry is two pages and gives a short summer that includes racial traits for height and weight, ability scores, languages, and race related powers. The first section discusses briefly each class, the paragon paths, and epic destinies. They explain this particular shorthand in the weapon section and the combat section but not in the powers section in chapter three which is earlier in the book. Each class has a two page description that includes what traits you get, what proficiencies, bonuses to defense, hit points, healing surges, trained skills, the build options, and the class features. Then you have all of the at-will, encounter, daily, and utility powers as well as paragon path powers listed following the basic description for each class. The classes included in the base edition are cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, warlock, warlord, and wizard. Left out were barbarians, bards, druids, monks, and sorcerers while warlock and warlord are new editions (Warlock was a base class but not in the main 3.5 players book). The paragon path is a specialization that you take in your class at 11th level, and epic destiny is what you want to do for your character's end game which decide at 21st level but should conclude when you make 30th level. I don't think this game translates well to combat without a battle map, but I suppose you can use the basic rules as guidelines and toss out a lot of combat items if you don't want to be heavy on combat moves. So yes, I like the game, I enjoy running it, I would enjoy playing it, but I would never play it without a battlemap, and I would recommend that everyone have the player's handbook (if you don't ever intend to GM, then you really don't need any other books unless you play a specific campaign setting or want to get the later releases of player's handbooks).