52 Loaves is an engaging story about a year spent in search of the "perfect loaf" of bread. Alexander becomes intrigued by the process of making bread and he resolves to make one loaf every week until he achieves a perfect loaf. The book is three parallel tales woven into one wonderful read. First, he weaves a lively tale of the history of bread-making, the connection of particular breads to their cultures, and his travels and efforts to improve his doughy attempts. Second, there is a shining lesson here of the development of an obsession, an all-engaging search that sets aside (at times) marriage, family, work, and play in the pursuit of goal. Last, there is a humorous story through the book of life and family living under an obsession. The choice of attention to bread over a chance of marital intimacy, for example. The celebrated escape from Sunday church for the excuse of needing to be present for the bread-making process. The family's weekly critical assessments of the loaves.
The tale concludes with Williams's short experience in a 1300 year old French monastery, where he brings his expertise, his levain (a bread starter) and the on site process of bread-making back to the monks. Just his priceless description of trying to bring levain through the TSA from America to Europe is worth the price of the book. I've leave you to discover what hair conditioner has to do with the story.
ProfessorRoush is no stranger to obsession, and, as a lifelong bread aficionado, 52 Loaves started my own. I spent the last four days making my own local levain from the yeast clinging to grape skins in my garden. And right now, while I write, I am waiting for my first loaf of peasant bread (page 328) to rise. Nirvana awaits me, a few short hours hence.
(Update: My boule was flat. But delicious. Must make stiffer dough next time or at least knead it more.)