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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Ultimate Vanity Book

Looking for a few new menus to spice up your family dinners? How about buying a new cookbook? Here's one that'll soon be available, and it costs only $625 (a mere $500 on Amazon). I know it sounds like a lot, but the money buys you six lavishly illustrated volumes totaling 2,400 pages and described by Tim Zagat as "The most important book in the culinary arts since Escoffier."

I'm thinking I can't afford not to buy it.

But if you're wondering who on earth would publish a book like the massive Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, the answer is the author--Nathan Myrhvold, a billionaire who used to be in charge of technology for Microsoft and has now devoted a large fraction of his free time to mastering contemporary cooking techniques. This article from BusinessWeek describes the amazing process by which Myrhvold created the book, which he admits cost "millions" and included hiring as many as 36 experts in cooking, technology, photography, design, and other fields. Publication is planned for March, 2011, unless the author dreams up some new material to include which could increase the book's size and price still further. (After all, when you're both author and publisher, who's going to enforce a deadline?)

This all may sound like wretched excess and a classic illustration of what happens when someone has too much time and money on his hands. But Myrhvold is apparently very serious about cooking and is making a conscientious effort to produce a book that will be a genuine contribution to the field. And anyway, writing and publishing a book, no matter how eccentric, is one of the most harmless ways I can think of for a billionaire to disburse some of his wealth. I wish more moguls would take on projects like this rather than (say) financing TV campaigns in support of tea party politicians. So I say, Go, Nathan, go!


  1. It would have been more of a contribution to humanity if he ate (pun intended) the cost and sold it at an affordable price. Meanwhile, there are many very good books on technique out there by food professionals (as opposed to technology billionaires)at normal cookbook prices.

  2. I would guess that a shorter and more affordable version of the book will be available in a year or two. Meantime an interested amateur will have to locate a copy at a library or a culinary school, I suppose.