Hard to write a short but detailed review about such a big book, so I apologise in advance for the length of this one, but I hope the detail is helpful!
I spent hours agonising over the best book for me. I am a keen and competent home baker, with a particular interest in breads and patisserie, and finally came to the conclusion that this book would be the most interesting and useful. I am very glad that I did.
It is not choc-a-bloc with pictures, although there are some lovely glossy pages at intervals in the book. So from that point of view it's not 'inspiring' (when looking through a recipe book, it is usually the pictures that inspire me). But if you are able to visualise what it is you wish to bake, have a good enough knowledge of baking to understand what certain ingredients and their quantities will result in, or are just happy to pick a recipe and see what you end up with, then you shouldn't mind not having an image for every recipe. Furthermore, what is lacking in the illustration department is more than made up for in the text one: there are HUNDREDS of recipes, each in clear-cut sections which begin with comprehensive explanations about what you may come up against.
The book begins with a number of pages about various ingredients and their properties, as well as necessary equipment for baking. So a section about chocolate for example gives an list of differents types (plain, semi-sweet, couverture, milk etc), before talking about melting chocolate, and specific points to remember; adding liquid to chocolate; tempering chocolate and storing chocolate. This in-depth approach continues alphabetically right up to yoghurt, encompassing dried fruits, flour, sugar and so on.
This part contains the recipes. The sections are:
pastry (with sub headings for savoury tarts and flans, savoury pies, savoury pastries and en-croute dishes, sweet tarts and crumbles and cobblers);
biscuits and cookies (as well as extra sections for festive biscuits, biscotti, savoury biscuits);
savoury quick bread and scones;
cakes (and then sub headings classic, chocolate, citrus, ginger etc.);
brownies and blondies;
icings and fillings;
glazes and sauces;
bread (plus sub-headings like basic breads, olive oil breads, flat breads artisan breads which include starters for sourdoughs etc);
small sections on baking with breadmakers, gluten free baking and high altitude baking.
Each section begins with a detailed introduction with the history of the product(s) and contains pointers as to what you need to remember when making it, why something might have gone wrong and how to correct that etc. The recipes are set out in a clear format, some with little descriptions before them and diagrams of step-by-step processes.
Terminology, glossary of british and american terms, conversion tables and a few suppliers of foods and equipment.
The recipes are in both metric and imperial, but there are no cup conversions in the back or with the recipes. The range of recipes is enormous, with french, english, american and other traditional recipes, plus some twists.
This book covers all the basics as well as venturing out to much more complex and technically challenging recipes and methods, so is suitable for all abilities. It really is a wonderful book from both an aesthetic and practical point of view. I might buy one with lots of pictures though, just to drool over!
Note on 9/10/2011: Book still proving a great success, although I admit that not all the recipes are perfect. However, for the most part it's a joy to use and my copy is well worn now. Glad to see that Amazon now let you "Look Inside" the book, although it renders somewhat pointless my lengthy write up of the index etc!