Julia Child is my greatest culinary hero. Her first two books, the two volumes of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' influenced two generations of home cooks, caterers, and restaurateurs. Her PBS television series did not invent the TV cooking show, but they made such an indelible impression on the genre that I am sure their influence will be felt long after Julia is cooking for St. Peter. Her generous support of charities and freedom from commercial influences should be a model for other culinary professionals who wish our respect.
After all that, I confess a certain irony in expecting to give this book a cautionary review. It is certainly a joy to read a new work by Ms. Julia, but I anticipated a few things you should consider, based on the fact that this is a very short book.
First, there are 105 pages of kitchen wisdom for a list price of $20, not including introductions and index. Short books leave things out. The book very wisely advocates a slow rise to bread dough to get better development of flavor, but it doesn't explain why. Another area where the book is clearly leaving things out is where it mentions the five French mother sauces, but only gives details on making two of the five.
Second, it seems to concentrates on the faster rather than the tastiest result, as this requires less space. One example I found is in the recipe for creating a crème fraiche at home. Almost every recipe I have found asks you to let the mixture of cream and sour cream or yogurt to sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Some have it sit for up to three days. This book allows for no waiting time. I confess the book does not always take the shortest route, as the recipe for pie dough (pate brisee) recommends a rest period of two hours in the fridge. Most writers suggest at least 30 minutes.
I bought this book over a year ago and I do not use it for anything except for its crepe recipe, which I find to be both effective and simple. Rereading selected sections a year after reading it the first time shows me that in spite of it's small size, it simply does not mislead by omission. When an important detail is needed for a technique, the detail is there. I expected the book to skimp on the discussion of the omelet, for example, but it did not. It stated that there are many ways to make an omelet and the method presented was simply Julia Child's preference, not the Gospel. I was especially fond of the fact that on the matter of fresh vegetables, Julia was closer to Nigella Lawson's common sense approach to using goods out of season than to the stoic 'only fresh and local' dogma. She does confess that we have not yet corrected the insipidness of tomatoes out of season, but almost all other produce is as good as gold, and healthy to boot.
The lesson I take from the change in my impression of this book over the last year is that one may not be able to appreciate this book or be comfortable in using it unless you are already comfortable in the kitchen and know why you do certain things in certain ways. To use an Alton Brown metaphor, this book is excellent at giving you directions, but it leaves out all the details of alternate routes in the event you stray from the straight and narrow.
I highly recommend this book, but I urge you to not take it as a shortcut to kitchen wisdom. The best way to use the book is to have studied these techniques in more detailed books and to come back to this book for a reminder. The irony in this advice is that Julia herself says that once you know a technique, you rarely have to refer to a recipe again. To those of you who are reading the book without a wide reading in other good books on cooking, please take my word for the fact that this lady knows what she is talking about.
Very highly recommended for all amateur cooks.