I’ve never felt so attracted to eggs or broccoli. From their press kit
My friend Deshan often tells me that books will go out like the dinosaurs, magnificently. I agree in theory, but it doesn’t seem the be the reality. It seems that most publishers are content to go out like litigating lemmings. This was until I saw ‘Modernist Cuisine’, a multi-million dollar adventure in cookery by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvol and his team. The five volume book weighs 43 pounds, has four pounds of ink and cost around $500. It is also has some of the best photography I’ve ever seen and gives me a distant thrill at the thought of how much knowledge and experimentation has gone into the work. This book is a dinosaur. It is magnificent.
As Myhrvol says in his worth reading intro (PDF), this is a different type of book.
“Publishers want to make low-end to midrange books; they think these are what will sell best. Maybe the publishers are right, but one has to wonder—it’s like saying that cheap restaurants are more popular. The publisher is trying to make a book that is analogous to McDonald’s or, at best, to a steakhouse chain. If publishers suggested that the chef change her restaurant in the same way—aim for lower quality, drop prices eliminate expensive ingredients—they’d get thrown out on their ears.”
I have to agree. As someone who grew up online, I see a lot of books who don’t use the medium for any comparative advantage over the web. For me, the main advantage of books is size and photography. A large monitor costs a lot of money and downloading high resolution photographs takes time. Where books (and print) win is that they can deliver this experience instantly, and with gusto. A well constructed book can make a deep physical connection. It can make you wet your pants.
The Modernist burger
As Myhrvol said, “My hope was that seductively beautiful and clear photos would both draw readers in and provide a clear demonstration of what the text told them.” Seductive is the right word. The photographs are jaw-dropping. Just looking through the web images I feel like a a geek at a robot convention. They took the photos by sawing pans and grills in half and cutting no corners, well, I mean besides the literal cutting. They also spared no expense on the print job, making it a product that actually is uniquely suited for print. This is not something you can read on a Kindle, or even an iPad.
Besides the new science of cooking (their recipes use centrifuges and vacuum-sealing, among other exotica) this is also a new idea of publishing, borne of amateur, self-funded love. It kinda shows how publishing has gotten stuck in one evolutionary cul-de-sac and has built in imperatives not to move. What this cookbook shows is that there is still room for wonder in cooking, in books and in life in general. It is truly a thing of beauty.