I am a knife enthusiast. Maybe even a knife nut. I have read virtually every book ever published on the topics of knife making, knife smithing, and sharpening. I have made knives from kits and from blade blanks and by stock removal. I own a number of custom and semi-custom knives.
I also love to cook and every knife stuck to the wall in my kitchen is sharp enough to shave the hairs on your arm.
So I was delighted when An Edge In The Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives: how to buy them, keep them razor sharp, and use them like a pro showed up in my Amazon recommended reading list.
I highly recommend this book for any serious cook and also for any serious knife enthusiast. The knife enthusiast will learn a great deal about kitchen cutlery that he/she probably doesn't know (I learned quite a bit about the evolution of styles of kitchen knives - a lot of the knife literature if very heavily weighted towards hunting knives). The cook will learn knife techniques (there is nothing new here - serious cooks may not learn much) and most importantly sharpening and knife care.
The author (Chad Ward) shares many of my biases about sharpening and he does a decent job of describing techniques that should produce excellent results. I strongly believe that people should sharpen their own knives. It is neither rocket science nor voodoo. When Alton Brown told me that I had to send my knives to a professional to get them sharpened, I threw my remote at the TV. I am sure that there are excellent sharpening services out there, but I have never personally experienced a "professional" edge that was even close to being as good as the edge I put on my knives. On the other hand I have overheard some shocking conversations in high end cutlery stores that have convinced me that there are lots of professional knife sharpeners who have no clue at all what they are doing and who likely ruin knives at a fabulous rate.
Here is the book by section.
Part one: Choose Your Weapon
Here the author describes the various knife styles, tells you what you actually need (one big, one small), tells you how to get what you need on various budgets, and tells you what the options are if the sky is the limit. He also does a nice job covering the ins and outs of cutting boards. This section contained the most new material for me - I think I will definitely have to branch out from my "traditional german-made" chef's knife and my plastic cutting boards.
Part two: Cut Loose
This section is devoted to classical kitchen knife techniques. It is well done and the photographs make the subject clear. It is not comprehensive (you won't learn how to butcher a cow), but it has the vegetable and chicken basics.
Part three: Stay Sharp
This section is the better part of a hundred pages and it is pretty comprehensive. It covers everything from metallurgy basics, to edge geometry, to sharpening techniques and systems.
I do have a couple of criticisms, though.
At one point, the author disses round crock sticks in V-system knife sharpeners because, "It is difficult to produce a flat edge with a round stone." That is complete nonsense. The knife edge contacts and is pulled along the top arc of the cylinder. In geometric terms this is a straight line meeting another straight line. In my opinion the round crock sticks are better (for everything except serrations) because you can just turn them a bit to get a clean surface. I have several of these V crock stick sharpeners and they have become my favorite tools for keeping a good edge on my kitchen knives. My only complaint is that they don't offer enough choices in angle, but you can solve that with a drill press. The Idahone system with coarse and fine ceramic rods is hard to beat.
My other criticism is that he doesn't make it plain enough what the difference between a good sharpening job and a bad one are. He does a nice job of describing how to get the planes of the blade to meet (raise a burr) and how to polish off the wire edge, but he fails to warn the reader that a single swipe at too steep an angle can undo half an hour of painstaking work. To sharpen successfully you have to understand the basic physics involved (which he explains well), but you also have to be very mindful and consistent.