I waste a lot of money on cookbooks. Half the cookbooks I buy, are just kinda to say I have them, or to have them around. I'm still kinda hitting myself on the head for buying the Alinea cookbook. Most cookbooks I rarely use, whether it be for inspiration or actual recipes. Just a select few tend to make the cut.
That's not to say that it's not great to have plenty of cookbooks for reference. I thought I would never touch Alice Waters' Chez Panisse fruits and vegetables, but when I wanted to make lemon curd to put on crepes (that's a whole other post), that's where I turned.
I think, however, that I've found a keeper. A book that will be indispensable in my kitchen, a book that I see myself carrying with me for the rest of my life. Ratio by Michael Ruhlman is that book, because it's so much more than a cookbook. Often when reading cookbooks, I feel restricted by the recipe. Ruhlman's book lets me run free, by teaching the fundamentals from which one can expand. Teaching me a recipe for a potato-rosemary bread really isn't going to help me much in life, whereas if I know the ratio for bread in general, well those are guidelines that will aid me throughout the years.
With the knowledge of a basic ratio, the possibilities are endless, and it allows for better understanding of the cooking process; why pie doughs turn out different then biscuits, how the interaction between sugar, fat and flour makes a quick bread.
I would go as far as to say that this book has the potential to alter this country's dependence on recipes. My mom follows recipes word for word. She's stepping in a stranger's car and hoping that the end result will be that she gets home safely. If she understood the principles of what she was doing, she would be a much better cook. She might even do some stuff on her own, hint, hint.
Michael Ruhlman, keep doing what you're doing.