I have been searching for the "ultimate" book on the science of cooking for a while now, and this book is my latest read on the subject. While it's not what I was hoping to find, it is the most interesting of the books I've read so far.
McGee's earlier book, "On Food and Cooking" (ISBN 0684843285), attempted to be encyclopedic in its coverage of food topics, hitting on every ingedient from a historical and scientific perspective. As a result (for me, anyway), it failed to be fully satisfactory on both counts. This book makes no such pretense, and is much the better for it.
From the earliest chapters, discussing the effects of searing and various temperatures on meat (did you know you could kill trichinella by keeping pork below 5 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 weeks?), I knew that I was in for a much more interesting and lively read this time around. There is a lot of interesting, new and useful information in this book, though the information doesn't always necessarily satisfy all 3 criteria at once.
The second chapter, for example, covers the topic of why oil collects on the inside of your glasses when you cook. The actual reason turns out to be fairly pedestrian, but the story of his experimentation (including a rather tongue-in-cheek diagram of several pairs of glasses propped on inverted bowls around a frying pan) was fun to read.
The topics in the book were chosen more-or-less at random, consisting of free-form explorations of topics including how to force persimmons to ripen, just how little egg you can get away with in mayonnaise, the truth (such as it is) about food, cancer, and heart disease, and various thoughts about what makes things taste good. The chapters on sauces were in general very well done, and I like the fact that McGee spent significant time discussing strategies for defeatng salmonella in egg-based sauces.
The only word of warning I have to offer is that McGee's writing style tends toward the sesquipedalian (and if you don't feel comfortable with words like "sesquipedalian", you'll probably find the book a bit hard to read). While I can't fault McGee's knowledge, from a presentation perspective, well, Alton Brown, he ain't.