Like Diogenes, you have been searching the four corners of the world for a book that will tell you how to make real sourdough bread at home. Well, set down your lantern and rest your weary bones, because you have finally found it. Nancy Silverton became famous for the sourdough bread that she makes at her bakery, and this book will tell you in excruciating detail how she does it.
Few things are as wonderful as good sourdough, and few things are as elusive as sourdough recipes in bread books. Few will even acknowledge the presence of sourdough; fewer still will mention words like levain, chef, starter, or poolish. The number of baking books that will give you real recipes for them can be counted on one hand.
This book is a complete tutorial on sourdough bread from start to finish. The first recipe in the book for a basic white bread takes an astonishing 30 pages: 10 to tell you how to make your own starter, and another 20 to tell you how to make the dough and bake it. The author is a stickler for detail; the thoroughness in the recipes can be irritating. It also means that your chances of success are very high; all of the breads I tried worked perfectly, even the more difficult ones based on rye. Each recipe has a rather long (and very complete) list of equipment that you will need (including, in one case, a room thermometer). No longer is sourdough dependent on random chance, magic, or even experience.
Be warned, however, that sourdough is not easy to do. You will end up throwing away a "swimming pool" of dough in order to refresh the starter. Some of the fermentation steps are 12 hours long. Some breads have to be refrigerated overnight, so you will need room in your refrigerator for several bannetons and/or sheet pans.
There are also some surprising gaps. During kneading steps, there are not always clear instructions on how to tell when you are done; this is especially true of the slack doughs that she expects you to do in a machine rather than by hand. All you get is an instruction to knead for a certain number of minutes. The baking instructions are not always helpful in telling you when the bread is baked enough; all you get is a vague description and a certain number of minutes to bake. Sometimes she tells you what color to look for. Other times, she gives you a description of what the inside of the bread should look like, but this is of no help if you have the oven door open and are wondering if the bread is done baking.
The title of the book is also a problem. It is not obvious from the title (unless you have actually been to her bakery) that the book has sourdough recipes almost exclusively. Conversely, the unwary buyer might pick up this book expecting an all around collection of boulangerie recipes.
Of special merit is the final chapter with recipes using the starter you would normally just toss out. This is the only book I know of that will tell you what to do with this excess starter when you are not going to be making bread. There are recipes like onion rings and pancakes that work quite well.