An attractive mise en place, but one that lacks the simple artistry of that long-remembered potato.

THE MAKING OF A CHEF

MASTERING HEAT AT THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA

A writer enters the Culinary Institute of America, the Ivy League of cooking schools.

Ruhlman (Boys Themselves, 1996) began a love affair with food after an uncle passionately detailed in a letter a potato he'd been served years before at a New Orleans restaurant. Ruhlman entered the CIA with that perfect potato in mind. The CIA, as exacting as the agency with which it shares its abbreviated name, requires students to arrive with a set of freshly sharpened knives and to be familiar with videos such as "Shucking Oysters'' and "Calf Slaughter.'' Ruhlman enters the school with some trepidation, particularly as the first day's soup stock is made with 120 pounds of chicken bones. The actual work of cooking is demanding—students get burned, they must begin work at dawn to prepare for lunch, and they are expected to learn thousands of recipes—but few drop out. Cooking represents a measure of both science and excess—one teacher regales them with a mythical meal of ancient Rome: a cow stuffed with a pig stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a truffle wrapped in foie gras; only the truffle was eaten. Students are expected to work in restaurants during the school year, and Ruhlman effectively captures their excitement and exhaustion as they learn about the real world of cooking. But Ruhlman is not as fine with the details as a cook needs to be. He calls a Reuben a grilled cheese sandwich, and his response to a teacher's impassioned lecture on Alice Waters's ethic at Chez Panisse—which he sums up as "if we screw up the earth, we'll have rotten food''—is needlessly glib. While his insights into his teachers and students are often interesting, the book has little to say about the art of cooking and even less to say about how it all tastes.

An attractive mise en place, but one that lacks the simple artistry of that long-remembered potato.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-4674-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1997

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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