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Astonishing, but contains major errors
on July 12, 2011
This is an amazing book and I have just started to scratch the surface. Others have written about its virtues, so I shall not elaborate on them here. It is because of the high standard it sets for itself that its problems make me cringe.
Unfortunately, this book contains major errors in the appendix that are apparent to even the casual reader. A cup of cornstarch weighs eight grams? REALLY? If obvious mistakes like this have slipped through, what else is incorrect? I checked up on one of the most basic conversions, that for all purpose flour - the text says one cup weighs eighty grams, while I measure it at 140. For a text that's so focused on science and measurement, this is unfortunate, as fundamental mistakes like this raise questions about the reliability of the entire series. A major, world-class work intended for professional chefs cannot afford this kind of sloppiness.
[Update: I have discovered that the book has an extensive errata page:
The error on the weight of a cup of AP flour is corrected, but the more obvious cornstarch error is not. Kind of a bummer to have forked out so much money to be a beta tester, leaves a real sour taste in my mouth. :-P Would also have been nice to get the second printing instead of the first. Maybe interested readers should wait for the third?]
[Update 2: The more I read, the more problems I find. While it is great to hear a chef talking about such essential physical concepts as latent heat of evaporation, there is a real whopper of an error in the introductory paragraphs of "Energy, Power, and Efficiency" on p. 1:272. The book says "...the joule is defined as the amount of energy required to accelerate a one-kilogram mass from zero to one meter per second in one second, over a distance of one meter." This is flat out wrong, as any first year physics student could tell you. The formula for kinetic energy is E = 1/2 mv^2, which for this mass and velocity would be half a joule. The latter part of this sentence is irrelevant, as the kinetic energy of a moving body is not dependent on how it got there, and suggests confusion with the concept of a newton-meter. There is also an enormous error in the conversion table on the facing page - it appears that the sign of an exponent got flipped, and it gives a multiplier for converting from joules to KWH that makes no sense whatsoever. All the errors I am finding are immediately obvious, and finding mistakes on such simple, foundational concepts tells me that nothing in the text is trustworthy. How can an author of such intellectual stature make errors of this magnitude? This is a great disappointment for scientifically-inclined chefs such as myself.]
[Update 3: I am truly surprised at how much commentary the "definition of a joule" issue has generated. In order to head off further confusion, I will try to clarify my statement somewhat.
If you believe that a mass of 1kg travelling at 1 m/s carries one joule of kinetic energy, you're just wrong. It's half a joule. If you disagree, well, it's hard to know what to say, other than to consult your high-school physics text.
If you believe the author is not making that claim, and think that the statement as a whole is correct... well, I guess that's for the English majors to discuss. Maybe it's not "wrong" under some convoluted parsing of the sentence, but it's certainly not HELPFUL, and it could have been written with much greater clarity. I don't know how anyone who does not already know the definition of a joule could possibly come away from this sentence with the correct understanding.
I will not be engaging in further discussion of this point because I honestly don't know if the commenters disagreeing with me here are sincere, crazy, stupid, or just trolling. Could be some combination of all four, but I don't think that further elaboration on this question is going to help anyone.]