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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
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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

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  3,834 ratings  ·  692 reviews
Bill Alexander had no idea that his simple dream of having a vegetable garden and small orchard in his backyard would lead him into life-and-death battles with groundhogs, webworms, weeds, and weather; midnight expeditions in the dead of winter to dig up fresh thyme; and skirmishes with neighbors who feed the vermin (i.e., deer). Not to mention the vacations that had to be ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 2nd 2007 by Algonquin Books (first published April 14th 2006)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  3,834 ratings  ·  692 reviews

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Start your review of 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
Apr 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gardening
I was reminded of this book over the weekend when I watched my husband shell out 70 bucks at Lowe's on wood and narrow plastic pipe to make some sort of cage to keep the birds off our blueberry bushes. I so wanted to mention the fact that we get less than a pint of berries from those plants, and that blueberries are currently two pints for $5.00 at the supermarket . . . but I didn't.

Sometimes keeping your opinions to yourself is the secret of a happy marriage.
May 26, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-politics
William Alexander, you are a talented writer. In less capable hands, I probably would have dispensed with the book entirely or thrown it across the room. Unfortunately, that is about the only nice thing I can say because Mr. Alexander, you are a pompous boob.

The book itself is a train wreck of a tale about bourgeois "gentleman farmer" (the term gentleman farmer is his, not mine) who spends a fortune on the ideal of a garden that never quite realizes its Platonic form. Alexander spends less time
Nov 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an enjoyable memoir about a married couple who design an elaborate vegetable garden, but it quickly turns into a more expensive, ambitious and time-consuming project than they anticipated. Toward the end of the book, the author adds up his gardening expenses and calculates the worth of the produce he's grown -- and he realizes that it cost him $64 to grow each of his 19 heirloom tomatoes that summer.

There were several amusing chapters, including William's experience in trying to grow a
Jul 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
i expected this to be something in the vein of all those sustainable gardening/lefty quasi-gentleman farmer memoirs making the rounds these days, with page after page dedicated to the author's environmental rights decision-making processes & lofty pronouncements on the superiority of home-grown tomatoes. what i actually got was so much funnier & more satisfying! i mean, yes, the dude acknowledges that he could conceivably be seen as a gentleman farmer, he describes himself several times as a lib ...more
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
A delightful and entertaining look at how obsessive gardening can become. Not only is the author, William Alexander, interested in gardening but he also bought a 90-year-old house on the verge of falling down. He and his wife, Anne, spent a fortune on renovating it and then spent a continuing fortune developing and maintaining the perfect garden. Hysterically funny at times and full of oddball characters both human and animal, this is a relaxing and fun excursion. In some sense, we have all done ...more
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Reading about everything that goes wrong and nothing going right gets depressing. After I read the chapter about the author trapping animals in his garden (and purposely leaving them in the trap in direct sun for several days hoping they would die because he was too afraid to release them alive) I knew the author was a moron and I couldn't stand to read the rest of the book. ...more
May 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
I gravitate toward books about gardening, and this seemed a likely choice. I was a touch disappointed because the author was quite negative--he kept saying how much he loved gardening, but then complained about the bugs and weeds and too abundant harvests, and the critters. Some things he brought on himself by trying not to spray for bugs, until it was too late, then he sprayed a lot, also he was gardening in the Hudson River Valley and he didn't want to put up a fence to keep out the deer--is t ...more
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I laughed out loud several times while reading this, and also couldn't help but read the section out loud to my fiancé about Red Delicious apples (and how much the author hates them, and why he cannot for the life of him understand why people choose to eat them. All I can say us: Amen, brother!)

All of that aside, I didn't love the book quite as much as I think I could have. At the end, he has no great epiphany, he doesn't come to any understanding about the way his life needs to interact with ga
Jess Dollar
Feb 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Cute. But jeez, talk about privilege. I couldn't relate to a 16,000 dollar garden. Like the last book I read, I felt like this guy characterized his wife in a negative light for the sake of good storytelling. It annoys me. I expect that if I am reading a memoir or story-telling non-fiction, that the main character is the writer and everyone else is part of the story of the author. But WHY must these guys characterize their kids as cute and funny and their wives as road blocks or antagonists to t ...more
Jul 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
At a certain point reading this book felt like being forced to listen to yet another privileged North American male get everything he ever wanted in life, but complain about it every step of the way. Lots of hot air and wind-baggery. Eventually, I went outside to garden.
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I needed to see if the content was as hilarious as the title, and it was.
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it
"The $64 Tomato" is a light laugh out loud look at one man's over-the-top gardening obsession on his three acre property in New York's Hudson Valley. Though the title may lead one to believe this to be a story about trying to grow a few tomato plants and the headaches and costs incurred with even that simple task, this book is much more broader in scope then that.
The author, William Alexander, purchases a somewhat large piece of property in upstate New York and immediatly has delusions of garden
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
of all the things gardening can do to you, the rarest seems to be inspire humorous self-assesment. this man is a gem. instead of some self-righteous monologue on the superiority of locavores and organics, glossy photos of the beauty his hands have wrought, his children eating off the fat of the land, and his wife as a piece of wallpaper, we have here the hilarious tale of a man, a family, and an obsession.

i have to point out that the tomato didn't really cost $64 dollars. he worked out his cost
Joe Bolin
Jul 24, 2014 rated it liked it
I'll read almost anything about gardening: blog posts, seed catalog copy, magazines, books... A gardening theme is the reason I picked up The $64 Tomato; well, that and a mention from a friend at my community garden. It was an enjoyable and quick read. The only criticism I have is the basic premise of the book: that it costs a lot of money to have a garden. Yes, if you hire a garden designer and a contractor and outsource the installation of edging, it can be expensive. Most gardeners don't do a ...more
Sep 19, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: gardeners who have dough
The storytelling was somewhat engaging, however the author's quirks were so irksome that it made this read a bit painful. At times I wanted to pull him aside and tell him what an arse he is but, all I could do was roll my eyes and flip the page. ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
I tried to like it - I'm guilty of spending too much on the garden - but I stopped after the author admitted to leaving multiple animals to die of starvation or dehydration in traps.

Even before that, it was a pain to read. I tried to like it, but the author sounds like the worst.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it
An entertaining look at one man's attempt to tame the "back 40" - William Alexander and his wife purchase the Big Brown House - a project in itself - and with it, also get a barn/outbuilding and a piece of land suitable for a nice garden. He's not talking about a little garden - a few tomato plants, some green peppers and jalapenos, and a few herbs. No, this is Garden with a big G - he wants to have potatoes and greens and the perfect Brandywine tomato, not to mention peaches and apples and squa ...more
Cindy Huffman
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sophie Nelson
Mar 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Finished in 2 days if that says anything about its difficulty. Interesting book, neat to learn about how everything is intertwined naturally and mentally. I didnt totally vibe with the author, although I like his writing style. I dont know if thata a fair criticism but i dont think we'd get along. Not exactly what I was expecting but I did enjoy it. ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Delightful! A privileged white dude starts a garden. Hilarity ensues. And lessons. A great book for a farm kid turned urban gardener like me.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gardening
I can relate to a lot of what the author discusses in this book. Spending too much time and money on too little produce, but learning to find joy in the process.
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love this book! I've read it a couple of times and even though it's not a work of literary genius, I highly recommend it to anyone who likes gardening. It's hilarious. ...more
Feb 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This amusing title caught my eye at the library a few weeks ago and I zoomed through it in a matter of days. Alexander has a casual yet sophisticated writing style that really engaged me as I read about his adventures in morphing from a mere backyard gardener to a "gentleman farmer." He goes through the design and construction of their 22-bed vegetable garden and the ensuing "cultivating" (not weeding), pest-eradicating (look out deer & Superchuck), and harvesting that it requires. As we have a ...more
May 31, 2011 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this quite a bit. While I don't agree with a lot of his actions and the chapters were a little too formulaic, I learned a lot and had fun reading it.

Explanation: The title implies that he goes to extremes normal gardeners wouldn't, but that's not entirely true. He analyzes the dilemmas and challenges most "weekend farmers" grapple with and he may spend a bit more than some, but the 64 dollars is the price he calculated out from how much hard cash he spent over a decade on his
Feb 25, 2009 rated it liked it
This was a book that had potential--- the author has a funny, warm, engaging side, some of the gardening stuff, the family stuff, the cooking stuff is really relatable. But then he has this other side that I think his editor really ought to have pushed harder to get rid of, where he needs to tell you minutia about how deep to bury the fence wire to address groundhogs and precisely how many stakes you need if you're edging a garden like his with metal. Where they're part of the overall story, oka ...more
Barb Lawrence
Dec 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gardening
I had such high hopes for this in the first few pages. I didn't think it was negative (as several reviews imply), it's just that gardening IS difficult. It's full of setbacks. It never quite matches our dreams. That's not negativity, that's reality. Initially I related, I laughed...and then he started talking about pests. And that's where he lost me. A so-called environmentalist doesn't resort to malathion or diazinon under ANY circumstances. And for me, you cross the line when you can't coexist ...more
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Oh boy where do I start with this one. It was very entertaining, informative and just truthful. As a gardener I shared his emotional ups and downs of his garden journey - struggling with the organic approach, etc. I have experienced my own "Superchuck" of pests and nearly lost my mind in the process. However, gardening is more about the journey than the end result. Except for some truly hardcore gardeners, most of us can not live off what we grow but the journey sure is fun. Yes, a $64 Tomato, n ...more
Jan 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for gardening and home memoirs, because I love to see how some other poor sucker did X/Y/Z complicated and expensive task. However, this one's closer to home, because I am a huge heirloom tomato fan and I too am planning about 1600 square feet of vegetables this year, in addition to fixing an old house and having a baby. Actually, this looks a little bit about the immediate future of my life, and so it was with some uneasy chuckles that I read of Alexander's existential crisis and f ...more
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stories from a man's attempt to turn an empty lot in his family's new house into the garden of his dreams, and the many unexpected challenges he encountered. Some interesting observations about the impact of humans on nature -- for example, I loved the story of how adding just a few things to his garden (rosebushes or sod) introduced new creatures and parasites that affected the garden as a whole. I wish the book had continued a bit longer; there's some reflections in the last chapter about how ...more
May 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
A book to make me glad I'm not into gardening! Lots of opportunities to laugh with the author, but was most struck by his chapter The Existentialist in the Garden, in which he asks: If you were doomed to live the same life over and over again for eternity, would you choose the life you are living now?
and his follow-up question: If the answer is no, then why are you living the life you are living now?
I love the life I have now. I think I will go to the library for more books to read!
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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

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124 likes · 29 comments
“Gardening is, by its very nature, an expression of the triumph of optimism over experience. No matter how bad this year was, there's always next year. Experience doesn't count.” 1 likes
“The great, terrifying existentialist question : If you were doomed to live the same life over and over again for eternity, would you choose the life you are living now? The question is interesting enough, but I've always thought the point of asking it is really the unspoken, potentially devastating follow-up question. That is, if the answer is no, then why are you living the life you are living now? Stop making excuses , and do something about it.” 0 likes
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