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52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust

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3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  1,054 ratings  ·  207 reviews
Obsession takes many forms. Alexander, already a seasoned horticultural adept, now turns his attention to producing the ultimate loaf of bread. To achieve perfection in so simple a creation (yeast, water, flour), Alexander husbands his own field of wheat. He learns to raise this ancient grass, harvest it, prepare the grain, grind it to flour, knead it with the purest water ...more
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Published May 1st 2010 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (first published January 1st 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,539)
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Diane
This is a fun foodie memoir about a man who becomes obsessed with baking bread and spends a year trying to perfect his recipe. I wanted to read this because I had loved William Alexander's previous memoir, "The $64 Tomato," about his obsession with his vegetable garden.

Alexander has a light, humorous writing style that is enjoyable to read. In "52 Loaves," he is inspired by eating a delicious loaf of peasant bread at a fancy New York City restaurant and decides to try and make his own. Thus begi
...more
Karim
Food and spirituality are surprisingly close kin, and are in many parts of the world deeply and wholly related to one another. At least, that's the point that William Alexander is trying to explore in his book '52 Loaves'. The opening act of the book is an enchanting look at that most basic of foods, bread, and the near-alchemical processes that result in a perfectly-baked loaf of bread. Initially dry, Alexander's exhaustive eye for research provides a number of interesting excursions from the m ...more
Melody
Alexander's memoir about baking bread left me cold. I didn't connect with him on any meaningful level. I'm a baker- a dilettante to be sure- but I never felt the sort of connection with the dough I was looking for here. It took him almost 125 pages to even get around to kneading the dough by hand, fercryinoutloud. For me, that's the beauty part.

The structure was awkward, I thought, and didn't even begin to make sense till he took up residency in the monastery at the end of the book. Simply didn'
...more
Valerie
Any man who will obsessively grow and grind his own wheat, in order to make the perfect loaf of bread has my attention. And his family has my sympathy.
Carissa
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this book, having found it on the library bookshelf in the bread section of cookbooks when looking for bread cookbooks. I came away completely delighted by my experience with the book and very thankful to have stumbled across such a witty writer.

The book follows one man's attempts to perfect an artisan bread he tasted once. Each week he makes a new attempt, and so the book is divided into 52 chapters, each discussing his attempts of that week. But tha
...more
Gini
Bill Alexander ate the perfect bread at a restaurant one day, and years later decided to try and recreate that experience in his own kitchen. His attempt to find that bread leads him to resolve to bake the bread--the same bread--once a week for an entire year. But whereas I might spend a year baking the same bread and attempting to perfect it by changes in in the ingredients, the ratios, the oven temperature, etc., Alexander does it by visiting bakers and bakeries, entering state fairs, travelin ...more
Naberius
One of my book groups had read The $64 Tomato a while back, and we all liked it. In that book, William Alexander wrote of his struggles with organic gardening, combining humor with the imparting of information, resulting in a nonfiction book that read as quickly as good fiction. I had read that he was writing a new book, so I had kept my eye out for it --- and wasn't disappointed when this arrived at our library. In this story, Alexander tackles the pursuit of the perfect loaf of bread, embarkin ...more
Suzka
Aug 28, 2011 Suzka rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of food
Recommended to Suzka by: just saw it on the library cart
This ranks (as I see it) at a high three stars, so I'm rounding it out to four. It was a fast, enjoyable read. The author seems to be pretty good at gleaning those small details and nuances which flesh out what could have been a dimensionless account in the hands of a lesser writer. I love his moxie for going to the monastery. I wanted to eat bread the entire time I was reading.

Here's a nice little bit, from page 34:

"...In fact, my parents' generation didn't have to deal with half the decisions
...more
Sorenconard
As a Bread Head new born, this was the book that I needed. I needed to see somebody's path to great bread to know that it could be done. I needed to know that just becuase I left an ingrident out that I shouldn't give up hope.

This book is along the lines of Bill Bryson or A.J.Jacobs. A book about a journey with humor, insight, history,over the top ideas, self-reflection and a dash of self deprication. It's about Alexander's quest to make great bread as a relitive novice and it is told in a self
...more
Joshua Buhs
A hard book to get a handle of.
On the one hand, an easy read, almost like a series of blog post--very short chapters. The author, inspired by a great loaf of bread he once ate, sets out to bake a loaf of bread every week for a year, in the process trying to produce a similar loaf.
But the conceit of the weekly bakings more or less disappears, even though the chapters are divided by the weeks, as does the need for him lisiting his weight and the weight of his baking books at the beginning of the b
...more
Lisa
I was facing a force far more powerful, one that seemed at times as threatening as it was benevolent, stronger and more enduring than anything I had ever encountered. I'm speaking, of course, of bread. - p. 314

In 52 Loaves, William Alexander, a middle-aged Director of Technology in southern New York state, chronicles his year-long effort to bake one loaf of bread every week . . . but not, as you might imagine, a different kind of bread every week. Rather, Alexander's goal was to bake one kind of
...more
Rebecca
Parts of this book were enjoyable. The author's interactions with the Benedictine monks were very touching, and the histories of bread, nutrient deficiencies, and assorted other topics were well worth reading. However, the memoir suffered from several flaws, including the following:
1. Too much information about the author's conjugal relations. There are some things that we definitely do not need to know.
2. An annoying tendency to end a chapter in the middle of a story. The resolution comes sever
...more
Karima
A sort-of memoir. A year in the life of a man as told through a particular quest, in this case how to bake "the perfect loaf" of peasant bread. This is NOT a cookbook (only four recipes at the end of the book)and could be enjoyed by many, even those with no interest in bread baking or cooking for that matter. This book is well worth your time as it is smart, insightful and FUNNY! Esp. enjoyed the last section, where he spends time (only five days)at a monastery in France. The tone of the book de ...more
Rachel
The author sets out on a quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread by baking a loaf every week for a year. His journey ultimately leads him to a 1500 year old Abby in France where he is able to restore the Abby's lost bread-baking tradition. A very charming, funny book. The author sounds like someone I'd like to sit down and break bread with (ha ha). He proclaims himself an atheist, but he recounts a number of spiritual experiences he has throughout the year. Of course, he manages to explain them ...more
Candace
I happened to pick up this book after developing an obsession with a local bakery. Needless to say, it only fueled that obsession. I greatly admired Alexander's efforts to bake one loaf of bread each week for one year, and as a person with many goals, it made me want to choose one effort and attack it wholeheartedly. The complexity of the process of baking, from considering the origin of each ingredient (not all yeasts are made equal) to debating between using a levain (starter) or not, also ins ...more
Anna
I must confess that when I picked this up on a whim at the library (it was one of the books on a stand with the cover facing out in between all the conventionally-shelved books) I wasn't expecting it to be very good. I'm becoming a touch skeptical about memoirs of the author's experience/obsession with food preparation -- in much the same way that A Year in Provence spawned a host of imitations, it feels like in the wake of the popularity of Julie and Julia , you can't walk into the non-fiction ...more
Morgan
I'm sad that the "perfect" loaf takes so many steps and ingredients I don't have.

I guess I'll just make some beer bread.
Duffy
Compelling and humorous. I am now lusting after crusty, air-pocketed bread.
Dana
I picked up this book off the clearance rack at my favorite bargain bookstore- Half Price Books- for $2. I had never heard of it but was glad I ran across it. It is about a man who wants to bake the perfect loaf of peasant bread. He bakes once a week for 52 weeks in his quest to do this, hence the name of the book. Included in the story are many interesting facts about bread and baking. The author does much research and goes to the extent of growing and harvesting his own wheat in his garden whi ...more
Stephanie W
I wanted to like 52 Loaves from the very beginning (which I did). It was as I continued with the book that it got all the more tiresome. I was amused by Alexander's anecdotes about his family, his personal life and the difficulties he has with his first few loaves of bread. Yet all of those once charming qualities begin to fade right around page 100.

Until that time, he is a home baker who never truly bakes. Until three months into his memoire, he never once kneads his dough by hand. That is one
...more
Corien
I liked most of the extra scientific info about bread and bread-making. Though all the precise measurements are probably only useful when you have to bake a lot of bread at once (baker's percentage). I bake one or two loaves of sourdough spelt at a time two or three times a week, and when I go by consistency of the starter(little bit thinner than yoghurt) and the dough (Dutch vla consistency - in between yoghurt and Greek yoghurt for the overnight rise) it is MUCH faster and comes out perfect ev ...more
Laura
Well, that was certainly one way to learn to bake bread. It was not the way I learned, or the way I would choose to learn if I didn't already know how. . . the number of activities he does outside his kitchen (sometimes continents away from his kitchen) kind of lead me to believe that he was less in search of the things listed in his subtitle and more very consciously in search of a memoir to follow The $64 Tomato.

I'd say there's nothing wrong with that, except he's repeatedly very judgey of ot
...more
Cat
Relentless is right! This man's quest for the perfect peasant loaf of homemade bread, conducted by way of successive experiments in baking week after week of one year (as the title suggests) is a search for authenticity that betrays all the hallmarks of contemporary alienation and longing for continuity, tradition, and regional or religious identity. What to do if your bourgeois twenty-first century life doesn't supply you with these ineffable forms of belonging? Take up an antiquated ritual pra ...more
Sharlene
(adapted from my blog post at Olduvai Reads)

William Alexander is a man who goes all out.

He is intent on perfecting perfect bread. And just one type of bread. Peasant bread or pain de campagne.

And that’s one loaf of bread baked each week for a year. Equals… Yes you got that right, 52 Loaves. Well technically more than that as there are plenty of loaves baked during a baking course he takes in Paris and plenty more in a monastery.

More on the monastery later.

As with most decent non-fiction reads,
...more
Jess
NB: I have adapted the below review for my book blog, Spine Creases. You can read the full review here.

This book definitely makes me want to get back in the kitchen and attempt making bread again. Alexander's memoir is utterly hilarious, which makes for two fantastic, laugh-out-loud funny memoirs that I've read this week. There were times I dropped the book, laughing. I also loved reading about Alexander's experiences as the abbey baker, which reminded me of the film Die große Stille

This quote i
...more
Carol-Anne
This book was engaging as the author takes us on a journey of his quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread, specifically Pain de Compagne.

His journey includes the growing and harvesting of wheat, building a starter, the merits and science of yeast, the enrichment of the typical white loaf, building an oven, and a course in a hotel bakery in France. This leads up to the final test in monastery where he must teach the monks to bake bread based on his accumulated knowledge. A enjoyable book.
Leanna
I would never have thought I would like a book about bread making so much. His obsession with making the perfect loaf was thoroughly enjoyable and relatable. The author's humor also reminds me a little of Dave Barry. I can't wait to read the 64 dollar tomato.

And there are tidbits of information in this book that have transformed me - like hearing the marketing of razor blades. I am now enlightened where before I have been confused by my purchases.
Jack Vinson
This was a fun book in the one-year-of-something vein. This one focused on the author's quest to create a perfect loaf of bread in his home. As he learns, there is a lot that goes into making bread. The book really picks up when he spends a week at a French monastery, working in a real baking oven - but that isn't until nearly the end of his long quest. Otherwise, the materials are sometimes as slow-rising as his bread. (Of course, it also took me until the monastery chapter to realize that he'd ...more
Kristina
I'd rate this book at 3.75 stars- story of a man's quest to learn everything about one type of bread, and at the same time, he learns a great deal about himself.

As someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen or in restaurants, I appreciate WM's quest for the perfect artisan bread. Tours of bakeries and yeast factories were a springboard for some great science lessons (like the source of the "sugar" upon which the yeast feed).

His backyard oven project sounds like something I'd certainly try
...more
Sabkymom
Absolutely loved this book! For many years, I used to make bread on a weekly basis, so I appreciated the book's premise. But Alexander takes his pursuit much farther and in doing so discovers much more about life and living than just the elements of the perfect loaf. Great amounts of history and facts while also entertaining and insightful.
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William Alexander is the author, most recently, of "Flirting with French." His previous books include the bestseller "The $64 Tomato" and "52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust." The New York Times has said about him, "His timing and his delivery are flawless."
More about William Alexander...
The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart

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“The nice thing about baking alone in the kitchen before dawn is that you can talk to yourself like a crazy person and no one suspects you're a crazy person.” 2 likes
“Hawthorne ends the story this way: 'He failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of time, and, living once for all in eternity, to find the perfect future in the present.” 1 likes
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