The ""background"" material of David's long-awaited work is in fact a very imposing foreground; nearly half the book is devoted to such matters as the botanical origins of wheat, the technology of milling both before and since the Industrial Revolution, the commercial manufacture of yeasts, and the history of ovens. What David is really out to do is to explore the role of bread in English life over the past few centuries. Hence her recipe-section, too, proves to be a magnificent historical anthology filled with lore from every source imaginable--Robert May, Hannah Glasse, Eliza Acton, forgotten Women's Institute compilations, professional baking manuals, letters from readers. Her own recipes, though detailed and to the point, are fairly few and usually involve basic rules or intelligent adaptations of directions from valuable sources. She goes as far afield as pizza, croissants, and a quiche involving Roquefort or other blue cheese. But her focus remains British breads, from Irish soda-bread (still called ""a cake of bread"" on its home turf) to crumpets (now, alas, sold in varieties apparently ""delivered direct from a plastics recycling plant""). Generous quotations from memoirists, novelists, travelers, and knowledgeable acquaintances are interspersed among the old and modern recipes--without seeming in the least like window-dressing. Karen Hess provides an introduction briefly discussing American ingredients and the history of US breadmaking, as well as translations of British into American measurements and occasional notes on equivalent ingredients. Exemplary.