The Comprehensive Julia Child Bibliography [books!]
I remember Julia Child like an old, tipsy, happy relative who cooked gourmet French meals laden with enough butter to kill a small donkey. She was my Saturday mornings. Watching her now is like watching an old friend and her cookbooks are like family heirlooms. In the spirit of celebration that's surrounded the imminent release of the Julie & Julia movie, we present this homage to the library of this great lady of the kitchen, the gentle giant of French cooking: a bibliography of texts by and about the one and only Julia Child, arranged wholly idiosyncratically in order of my own thoughts on their importance.
Books By Julia Herself
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volumes I & II by Julia Child and Simone Beck (Vol. I on Amazon / Vol. II on Amazon)
Following the philosophy that "Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere with the right instruction," this book has a place in any home cook's library. Less a recipe book and more a written lesson, it has been teaching Americans the basics of French cooking for forty years now. Everything from how to buy raw ingredients to the final dish is explained in detail – and the intentionally vague measurements (pinches, dashes, and whatnot) will lead to real confidence in the kitchen.
My Life in France by Julia Child (buy at Amazon)
While there are plenty of biographies of Child (see the second section of this article), this memoir is the end all be all. The book reads with the same whimsy and jubilation with which she ruled the public television airwaves. Inspiring to any would-be or current cook, it's light, easy and humorous. (The only thing missing is any mention of her side job as a spy, but that's hardly noticeable when you are reveling in her discovery of the French markets and meals.)
Julia's Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child (buy at Amazon)
For the true Julia enthusiast: a compilation of recipes, remedies and skills inspired by Child's own notebook. This is not a book for the beginner, as it focuses more on variations and specifics than actual, concrete recipes. But for the cook who has mastered the basics (not ruining a green bean) but who wants to learn the keys to perfection (perfectly retaining the green bean's greenness) it's invaluable, and full of Julia's personality.
The Way to Cook by Julia Child (buy at Amazon)
Here it is: The way to cook. Whatever you were doing before, forget it. Unless you were doing what this book said, because this is the way to cook. When it was published in 1989, it was meant to accompany a TV series, which is available as well — only on VHS and out of print, at Amazon or your local library — but not necessary. Lots of pictures (and who doesn't like pictures?!) mean that you can actually see what you are supposed to be making without the aid of a television.
From Julia Child's Kitchen by Julia Child (buy at Amazon)
Julia considered this book to be like a private cooking school, and who could want more than Julia Child as your private cooking tutor? Each recipe was meant to teach the burgeoning home cook or hone the skills of the more advanced chef. Ranging from soups to charcuterie to desserts, the book is a wonderful way to work through each and every important technique. Though not as widely available as Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it's an excellent addition to any kitchen.
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin (buy at Amazon)
Two PBS stalwarts for the price of one! Based on television show of the same name (DVD at Amazon), Julia and Jacques shine in this he-said-she-said cookbook. It is set up as a sort of proto-Iron Chef: the cooks are presented with ingredients and then create separate meals. The book illustrates that there is no one way to cook, even within French cuisine. It allows for the reader to navigate his or her own pathway through a recipe rather than just following a set way. Though this could be construed as overwhelming for the beginning cook, it is freeing for someone who has tired of strict instructions.
The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child (buy at Amazon)
If you like to read along with your DVDs, then here's the book for you. The French Chef was where Child's TV career began in 1963. In it, she took swigs of brandy, dropped chickens, and played around with tripe of all types. She also took her audience through some pretty great recipes. If you can't keep up with her via video, this book contains all the recipes featured in every episode as well as photographs detailing techniques.
Cooking with Master Chefs by Julia Child (buy at Amazon)
A guide to her television show of the same name, this book takes on the recipes from some of America's best chef's signature dishes: A crab boil from Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Palmer's seared venison, pasta ears from Lidia Bastianich, and many more. While the recipes are excellent and varied, the book loses some of the fun of the show. Without the interaction between Child and chef, it's really just a cookbook.
Books About Julia, By Others
Appetite for Life by Noah Riley Fitch (buy at Amazon)
From growing up as a young girl in Southern California to her fateful meeting of future husband, Paul Child, in India, Fitch tells the tale of Julia Child's rise to fame. He concentrates on the two Childs, letting their unique personalities shine through the text. Centering on the narrative of Julia's life and journey from author to television celebrity, the book is for some one who wants more of a classic, academic biography. Personally, I'd rather let Julia tell it herself.
Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan (buy at Amazon)
Dorie Greenspan, expert baker, has written the companion guide to Child's TV show of the same name. From breads to pastries, cakes to croissants, this is a great book for the serious baker. Not only does it include recipes from Julia but also from her professional baking buddies like a wedding cake from Martha Stewart and baguettes from Steve Sullivan. Very much a recipe book, it is clear and concise as a baking book should be, though it does lack the colorful language and whimsy of a true Julia cookbook.
Julia Child: A Life by Laura Shapiro (buy at Amazon)
Hey look, it's another biography! But this one's different. Shapiro discusses what the other bios on this list did not: spy stuff. Starting with her childhood, Shapiro tells the tale of Julia's unlikely career path of a chief clerk in a WWII spy station to a home cook to a household name. Shapiro is a food writer, so her focus is on cooking and how it can affect a life in the most positive of ways. But hey, the spy stuff is pretty cool too.
Backstage with Julia by Nancy Verde Barr (buy at Amazon)
From 1980 on, Nancy Barr was a member of the "Julia team," Child's support crew who orchestrated her hectic life of demonstrations, appearances, book signings and other culinary celebrity related events. This book illustrates the driven side of Julia: her non-stop work ethic and never ending high spirits. Even at the apex of her fame, Child remained down to earth and always reveled in food, no matter how humble the dish (she loved In-N-Out). If you've read most everything else about her life, here is the book that can show you a more detailed version of Julia Child's professional side.
Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (buy at Amazon)
Now a major motion picture and every food blogger's wet dream, from Julie Powell: living embodiment of the Cinderella story. More specifically it's the story of Julie as she attempts to cook all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume I. This is for the cook who wants to read about food but secretly also wants to read Bridget Jones. It's not the world's most compelling read, though, so I'd say just go see the movie — at least then you get to see some food. And when was the last time Meryl Streep failed at anything?