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The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden Paperback – March 2, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Reprint edition (March 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565125576
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565125575
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When the author of this hilarious horticultural memoir plants a large vegetable garden and a small orchard on his Hudson Valley farmstead, he finds himself at odds with almost all creation. At the top of the food chain are the landscaping contractors, always behind schedule, frequently derelict, occasionally menacing. Then there are the herds of deer that batter the electrified fence to get at Alexander's crop, and the groundhog who simply squeezes between the wires, apparently savoring the 10,000-volt shocks. Most insidious are the armies of beetles, worms, maggots and grubs that provoke Alexander, initially an organic-produce zealot, into drenching his entire property with pesticides. He braves these trials, along with hours of backbreaking labor and the eye-rolling of his wife and children, for the succulence of homegrown food. He also manages to maintain a sense of humor, riffing on everything from the ugliness of garden ornaments to the politics of giving away vegetables to friends. Alexander's slightly poisoned paradise manages to impart an existential lesson on the interconnectedness of nature and the fine line between nurturing and killing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Alexander had always dreamed of having his own garden, where he could grow healthy, organic fruits and vegetables. When his family moved to the Hudson Valley, he got his wish-there was more than enough land for his vegetable garden, his apple orchard, his wife's flower garden, and a swimming pool. He had done his research and knew which crops to plant and when, what type of fencing he'd need, and how to defend his garden against predators. What he hadn't counted on were the facts that planting sod around the swimming pool killed the corn, and that planting rosebushes killed the sod. There were also landscaping contractors always behind schedule, a groundhog that figured out how to get through a 10,000-electric-volt fence, and feasting deer. After years of fighting pests, Alexander realized that there was no such thing as an organic garden in the Northeast, and that for each tomato he'd taken from his garden he'd spent $64; ultimately, what was once a hobby became a second full-time job. Throughout the telling, the author manages to maintain a sense of humor, riffing on everything from the ugliness of garden ornaments to the politics of giving away vegetables to friends. This hilarious horticultural memoir manages to impart an existential lesson on the interconnectedness of nature and the fine line between nurturing and killing. Teens looking for a biography, a book on biology, or a humorous read can't go wrong with this title.-Erin Dennington, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

William Alexander is the author of the best-selling memoir, "The $64 Tomato," and "52 Loaves: A Half-Baked Adventure," his hilarious and moving account of a year spent striving to bake the perfect loaf of bread.

His next book, "Flirting With French," about his attempt to fulfill a life-dream of learning French, goes on sale September, 2014.

The New York Times Style Magazine says about Alexander, "His timing and his delivery are flawless." He has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, and was a 2006 Quill Book Awards finalist. Alexander has been a frequent contributor the New York Times op-ed pages, where he has opined on such issues as the Christmas tree threatening his living room, Martha Stewart, and the difficulties of being organic.

When not gardening, baking, or writing, Bill keeps his day job as director of technology at a psychiatric research institution, where, after 28 years, he persists in the belief that he is a researcher, not a researchee.

Customer Reviews

Despite some of my questions, the book really was fun to read, quick and entertaining.
R. Rappaport
I'm glad I swapped the book at paperbackswap. com so I didn't pay the author one penny of my own money.
M. Van Raalte
In this book, author William Alexander details his love/hate relationship with his garden.
Douglas E. Welch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Douglas E. Welch on October 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It is a story as old as America itself. When we dream, we dream big. Big houses, big cars and, in the case of The $64 Tomato, big gardens. In this book, author William Alexander details his love/hate relationship with his garden. I knew I was going to love this book within the first chapter, when I found myself laughing out loud time and time again. Alexander perfectly captures the idealism and absurdity that usually accompany any home improvement project.

I must say that, after my childhood of helping my Grandmother and my Father in the garden and even, reluctantly, maintaining my own small garden plot as a child, I found it a bit ludicrous that anyone would actually set out to "design" a vegetable garden. In my experience, you usually just mark out an area, have the neighbor plow it up and disc it down, lay out some string lines and plant. Aesthetics were rarely, if ever, an issue. Now you bring in experts, test the soil, try exotic new varieties of plants and, so it seems, endure many failures.

While the book is funny, it is also a trifle sad. There is an underlying current of hubris which seems to thrive in the heart of every American. We like to think we can conquer and control anything, even nature itself, when, in reality, we can only hold back nature for short periods of time and even then, only in relatively small areas. It is also a story of having eyes too large for our stomachs. Rows and rows of zucchini that must be given away, if not forced on the neighbors. Yes, we love having fresh food from our very own gardens, but it seems we have no self-control. If "some" is good than "more" must certainly be better.

The $64 Tomato is entertaining and enlightening because it is so true.
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37 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on April 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Working all day at a nearby research institute, sometimes Bill Alexander would have to gird his loins when he came home at sundown and still had all his gardening to do. He and his physician wife owned a patch of land neighboring boys used as a baseball field, but Alexander always had weekend dreams of turning it into a combination orchard and flower garden. Under the direction of a comically sketched landscape designer, he made his dreams come true, despite the skepticism of his sitcom-like kids, a teen girl and a slacker boy named Zach, characterized as living in a dank room filled with unwashed laundry. The kids don't really care--on the outside; but inside their hearts swell with pride as their dear old dad tames a recalcitrant patch of land into a Robert Creeley like garden of which Elizabeth Lawrence might have been proud.

His wife likes it too. Digging in the garden is like horticultural Viagra, and when he really gets going he rushes into the house and grabs her. "By the time I was done, I felt strangely, strongly aroused. That night, the smell of pollen still fresh in my nostrils, I made passionate, urgent love to my mystified (but appreciative) wife." When I was a teen, we called this "TMI"--too much information--but it's a nice reminder of the benefits of married life.

There's a sinister side to gardening as well, as befits a hobby so elemental, and Alexander meets a strange contractor with a bizarre resemblance to Christopher Walken. Elsewhere he characterizes his battle with squirrels as "like living Hitchcock's THE BIRDS, only with squirrels.
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The first chapters in this book are entertaining, well written, and everyone who gardens could probably relate to (working with contractors who show up weeks late, etc). I was thouroughly enjoying the book until I came upon the chapter where the author tries to rid his garden of "pests". (The pests are deer, groundhogs, squirrels, possums, basically anything that moves). The heartless and inhumane techniques he uses were abhorent and made me HATE the author all at once, when previously I'd been chuckling along and enjoying his story. he traps a possum and rather than letting it go miles away, he leaves it in the trap, in the blistering sun, for a day hoping it will die of heat suffocation. When the possum survives the first 24 hours, he decides a brilliant idea would be to let the poor thing suffer another 24 hours. after TWO DAYS of torture hasn't killed the animal, he decides a "more humane and quicker death" would be to drown the thing, so he throws the whole trap, animal and all, into the water. That doesn't work either, so then FINALLY he drives a few miles away and realeases it! WHAT THE HELL??????? What kind of heartless man does that??? Then to make matters WORSE, he doesn't learn his lesson about the trap, and kills another animal in it, a smart groundhog who up until then had outsmarted him. THEN he wires up his fence to 10 thousand volts and laces peanut butter all over it to make sure the deer touch the fence with their tongues and lips to get a "real jolt". This guy is a sadist, seriously. Really, I can't believe a person like this exists.
I'm glad I swapped the book at paperbackswap. com so I didn't pay the author one penny of my own money. Oh, it goes on.
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