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Great Books for Cooks Paperback – May 11, 1999
From Library Journal
All cookbook selectors, whether librarians or patrons, will find this a particularly helpful tool in weeding through the seemingly endless choices in this genre. The book is organized by chapters, such as international and ethnic, which are then broken down into subsections, such as countries; each entry has an annotation that describes the strength of the work. Out-of-print materials, as well as resources for their acquisition, are included. With trustworthiness explicitly stated as a cookbook's most important characteristic, the authorsAboth well-respected food writersAare clearly on the consumer's side; reliability is not sacrificed to the packaging of the latest culinary trend. One might quibble with certain omissions, such as Larousse Gastronomique (Crown, 1988) or Jack Denton Scott's groundbreaking primer, The Complete Book of Pasta (Bantam, 1968). These subjective differences notwithstanding, this book cannot be recommended too highly.AWendy Miller, Lexington P.L., KY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Wyler and McLaughlin have embarked on a daunting task: to choose the best cookbooks currently available. Their expressed goal is to provide consumers with a buying guide to currently available cookbooks whose recipes can be relied on to produce reasonably consistent results and that are otherwise dependable or authoritative. Despite the problems of organizing and classifying the enormous output of cookbooks in the U.S., the bibliographers have come up with useful categories to group these hundreds of titles. In addition to the annotations describing each book's contents, the authors provide a short listing of recipes in each work they find especially intriguing. Although there are some conspicuous absences in the general reference section and some inclusions that have little lasting value, Wyler and McLaughlin's bibliography will delight ardent cookbook collectors. Mark Knoblauch
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The authors acknowledge this clearly in the introduction by explaining some of their criteria (e.g.: some cookbooks were automatically excluded if recipes were found to be unreliable). They also note that preferences are, indeed, subjective. Personally, I am very comfortable trusting two successful cookbook authors rather than someone else when it comes to a selection process such as this. (Just for the record, there are only 7 cookbooks written by either of the two authors that are included in the review of 500+ books.)
The book is nicely organized into various categories--general, single-subject, ethnic, baking, TV personalities, etc. The authors mention some of the stand-out recipes from each book, thus giving readers a good idea of whether or not the book will be right for themselves or as a gift for someone else. With tens of thousands of cookbooks available at various mega-stores and on-line, it's high time that people who are experienced cooks and authors helped the rest of us make some sense of all the choices that are available today.
It is also an enjoyable and a highly readable book, and a good addition to all those issues of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Cooking Light that we keep on the bedside table for inspiration.
You can be pretty sure that cookbook publishers deluged "Food & Wine" magazine with review copies, over the years. And you can be pretty sure that Susan Wyler saw much of this stream of books. So she's an ideal choice to be an author of this book.
Michael McLaughlin, her co-author, is author or co-author of at least twenty cookbooks, including "The Silver Palate Cookbook," which was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's Cookbook Hall of Fame. Very importantly, Mclaughlin is cooking and life-style book buyer for Cookworks, a gift and gourmet chain in New Mexico, Florida and Texas. So you can be pretty sure that he sees a giant stream of cookbooks too.
The result of the authors' skill and experience is a valuable book. It's not one that you'd read at a few sittings. Rather, it's a book directory for dipping into, now and then. It offers a paragraph of description of each cookbook, plus it recommends a selection of recipes from each cookbook.
It puts each book into one of these categories: general interest cookbooks, regional America cooking, ethnic and international cookbooks, vegetable and vegetarian cooking, low calories, reduced fat and spa cooking, single-subject cookbooks, cookbooks from chefs, restaurants and TV personalities, cookbooks featuring grilling and other techniques and equipment, breads, baking and desserts, good reads, references and cookbook series.
Tremendous numbers of cookbooks come into print and go out again, quickly. The authors were smart to concentrate on books in print and smart to look upstream at books about to be published.
Most of the information in this book can be gleaned for free from catalogs like *Jessica's Biscuit.* What's most disappointing about it is the bland prose and uninspired selections. I had hoped to learn about unknown gems or at least find new appreciation for some of my own favorites. No such luck with this p.r. approach to cook book criticism.