Originally Posted by allanm
On Food and Cooking by McGee
This book is super great. It's super complete and thorough, though somewhat technical. It may be prudent to read is Keys to Good Cooking first if you have trouble with the former, and it is more direct, with more instruction on how to actually do stuff.
Cook's Illustrated Best Recipe are great if you need recipes, because they tend to have more explanation and commentary than many cookbooks. This, I think, is the problem with the ones you listed. They probably won't have as much rationale and theory as you would like.
It might be preferable to go for something that focuses more on skills and technique than recipes. Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques is great for that. It has step by step pictures of all manner of techniques. It seems to me that a recipe for the best beef bourgignon in the world is no good if you can't dice an onion, but if you know all the techniques, making your own, even better beef bourgignon is just a matter of cooking it a few times until you get it right. Techniques are timeless. Recipes are not.
You may also want to look into the 101 level culinary textbooks. They will cover a wide variety of techniques, styles, and ingredients, and offer step-by-step instructions, illustrations, and rationale for the individual dishes.
My suggestion would be to eschew cookbooks that are collections of recipes altogether. I would go with either Complete Techniques or a textbook like The Professional Chef first, and then one or both of the Harold McGee books. Also, don't forget that there is a plethora of free information to be found online. Much of it is as good of quality as what is in the books, you just have to be a discerning consumer of information. Bonne chance.