On Monday, New York Times columnist and author Mark Bittman posted a review of Meat is for Pussies by John Joseph, and wrote the following preamble:
"I stopped writing book reviews ten years ago, when I angered [cookbook author] Marion Cunningham, who I believed to be a flawed goddess who wrote a very flawed book; it’s hard to be honest without angering people."
Curious as to what angered Cunningham, we dug around and found his review of Learning to Cook With Marion Cunningham from back in 1999. That's like before the internet existed!
In the review, while Bittman calls the book "a qualified success," it practically froths with qualified criticism. He begins by excusing her; the goal of the book is beyond anyone's reach because "no cookbook is more difficult to write than a primer," and it only gets worse from there. "There are inconsistencies, unnecessary steps and downright errors," according to Bittman, although some of them ("Vegetable shortening is not the best fat for anything") seem to be more opinion than indisputable fact.
Still, we find it hard to believe that Cunningham could quibble with this review; there's little in it that reads as terribly far beyond objective. If the temperatures recommended in the scrambled egg recipes were inconsistent, they were inconsistent; you can't say Bittman was criticizing that unfairly. The large chunk of Bittman's concerns lie in what should be the editors' domain, not Cunningham's.
Also, somewhat hilariously, the review that caused Bittman to get back in the reviewing saddle is a negative one: "The science here is non-existent, there's little or no consistency, and it reads like a not-very-well-grounded 200 page rant." Nice to see the return to form, Bittman.
Mark Bittman [Photo: Sally Stein]