The text is divided into six major sections: natural effects, lighting and shadows, materials, image progressing, performance and practicalities, and beyond triangles. Each section has anywhere between 5 to 9 chapters (for an overall total of 42 chapters). The chapters are separate white papers related to the overall section's major topic. For example, the natural effects section contains chapters on water caustics, Perlin noise, creating realistic fire, and diffraction just
to name a few.
Generally, each chapter has an introduction, a background with some mathematics, an implementation (occasionally with some partial source code), a conclusion, and key references. While a different author writes each chapter, the overall feel of the book is consistent and smooth. The chapters read very similar to a SIGGRAPH paper without as much math or specific detail.