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The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation Paperback – February 1, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0140298512 ISBN-10: 0140298517 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140298517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140298512
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The buzz about the Guggenheim Bilbao aside, the Basques seldom get good press--from the 12th-century Codex of Calixtus ("A Basque or Navarrese would do in a French man for a copper coin") to current news items about ETA, the Basque nationalist group. Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod, sets out to change all that in The Basque History of the World.

"The singular remarkable fact about the Basques is that they still exist," Kurlansky asserts. Without a defined country (other than Euskadi, otherwise known as "Basqueland"), with no known related ethnic groups, the Basques are an anomaly in Europe. What unites the Basques, above all, is their language--Euskera. According to ETA, "Euskera is the quintessence of Euskadi. So long as Euskera is alive, Euskadi will live." To help provide a complete picture of the Basques, Kurlansky looks at their political, economic, social, and even culinary history, from the valiant Basque underground in World War II to medieval whalers to modern makers of the gâteau Basque. The most affecting chapter focuses on Guernica, a small market town bombed by German planes for over three hours on April 26, 1937, and uses interviews with survivors to illustrate the horror of the attack.

Kurlansky is clearly enamored of the Basques, which leads him to see them in a uniformly positive light. That rosy outlook aside, The Basque History of the World is an excellent introduction to these romantic people. Are they the original Europeans? Kurlansky doesn't weigh in on the issue, preferring instead to honor the Basque request Garean gareana legez--let us be what we are. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Straddling the border of southern France and northern Spain, the land of the Basques has long been home to a people who had no country of their own but have always viewed themselves as a nation. In this marvelous work of cultural history and appreciation, Kurlansky traces Basque history from pre-Roman times, when Basques worked as the mercenaries of Carthage, to the region's recent renaissance in language and arts. Along the way, he explains how the Basques came to be among Europe's first whalers, capitalists, explorers, industrialists and international traders. As he did in Cod, Kurlansky fuses political and economic history with delightful digressions into cultural and culinary traditions (several delicious recipes are included). The book is as politically loaded with opinion as it is culturally informative: Kurlansky expresses sympathy for the cause of Basque independence, arguing that many of Spain's current policies toward its Basque minority are holdovers from the repressive Franco regime. He also tends to accept the claim that the Basques "are the original Europeans," largely on the ground that Euskera, the Basque language, appears to have no linguistic relative and is likely the oldest European language still spoken. For all the ground it covers, this wildly informative work is a marvel of clarity, glittering with unusual facts and marked by penetrating insights into a people always "making complex choices about the degree of independence that was needed to preserve their way of life, while looking to the rest of the world for commercial opportunities to ensure their prosperity." 56 illustrations, 6 maps, 10 recipes. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy Agency. 5-city author tour. (Oct.) FYI: Cod received the James Beard Award for Excellence in Food Writing and was a New York Public Library Best Book of 1997.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

This book was an excellent read about the Basques, their history, culture, and cuisine.
Dafydd Edwards
The book tries to have a historical background but that is manipulated to suit the author extremely biased opinion.
It gives a very useful history of the Basque people, their culture, language, and even a few recipes.
C. Sargent

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 110 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I've always been interested in basque culture and language, have even tried to learn euskera on my own. That said, I also am very interested in spanish culture (castilian, galician, catalan etc.) as such and have lived in Madrid for a while.
I found this book very readable and hard to put down, Kurlansky has a knack for presenting the material in an entertaining and readable fashion without getting stylistically bland. Despite that, I have some gripes with it. Kurlansky is obviously a journalist and writes the book as such, but I for one would have wanted more of a historians account. His choice of not using footnotes or endnotes, but just supplying a general bibliography at the end, is very annoying, because that way he is able to put down statements without backing them up. I even found one wrong statement, that basque ships had been sighted in Iceland in 1412. That's wrong, these ships were english, ushering in what is called the English Age in icelandic history (basques didn't arrive in Iceland until the end of the 16th. century, there are at least no accounts available of earlier encounters). Kurlansky is not the only one guilty of making this mistake, but if he would have dug a bit further he would have found out the truth. So it goes to show, if he trusted is sources so blindly in this case, what else is inaccurate there? Again, the use of footnotes/endnotes would have solved this, as one would have been able to verify each statement.
Kurlansky is also quite romantic, and even if he tries to criticize when criticism is due, it's quite obvious that his sympathy lies with the basques. This mix works quite well in the earlies chapters on prehistory, but not as well when he talks about the political situation today.
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69 of 75 people found the following review helpful By EriKa on January 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Kurlansky has written a brilliant introduction to a mysterious people. It is also a timely one, although not universally popular considering its rather lax treatment of ETA violence. Kurlansky does perhaps harbour sympathies for the Basque people and even for the most extreme of their nationalist tendencies, but he does not let this completely cloud his judgment, and it is not entirely clear that Kurlansky "takes sides" or endorses one course of action or another. I can see why it would be easy to become so attached to the Basques and their culture, their language, and the ongoing fight they have pursued in order to keep these fundamentals of who they are intact. People deserve to keep their history, heritage, language, and cuisine, and the Basques have a long, rich, and misunderstood history which deserves the kind of recognition Kurlansky's book brings to their cause, wherever Kurlansky's personal sympathies lie.
I felt that Kurlansky presented basically unbiased information, particularly about the history of the Basques in centuries past. The book is filled with revelations about this formidable and fascinating culture, and I feel that these kinds of explorations in Kurlansky's research and writing dominated this work much more so than current political issues or separatist violence. Sure, it is easy enough for me to say this, completely isolated from the violence and the everyday problems these tense relations may create, but I can say that there are groups in the world who are routinely terrorized by other groups without provocation. (Perhaps "terrorized" is not the ideal word choice because I do not see a reign of terror in the making. I do see that some people may perceive the unrest as such depending on their vantage point).
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77 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Gotzone Intxausti on October 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am a Basque woman living in New York. It is the first time I have read a positive history about my people. Unfortunately, we Basque people have not been good in keeping our written records and most of our history has been written by people who wanted to conquer and dominate us. "The Basque history of the World" is a beautiful informative book about what it is to be Basque in a world that has not been able to understand our way of life. Most countries want to expand, and to create empires. Basques did not and do not want to expand. This different point of view is not well understood by people who believe there is something strange in a group of people who have travelled all over the world, who have been among the first to go and help conquer the new world,but who have never really wanted to broaden their borders. Mark Kurlanski's attempt to try and explain the rationale of Basque people is commandable. I thank him for this pleasure.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Harding VINE VOICE on March 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you don't mind a little historical romanticism a la Michener, then you will probably greatly enjoy this fine introduction to the Basque people. I frequently travel to Northern Nevada where I've met many Basques and eaten at most, if not all of the Basque restaurants there. Yet when I rave about these places at home, a blank look appears on most faces followed by the question "What is a Basque?" Kurlansky's book goes a long way toward answering that question and shows how the Basque, despite not having a formal country, has been able to hold on to language and culture and to have an important influence on the development of the Americas from Argentina to our American West. Intertwined in his easy to read history are all sorts of fascinating tidbits about this little understood people. I only wish that there was more about the Basques in America because it is they who have given the most flavor to the western Great Basin. After reading this book, you will surely want to know more. If you can't make it to Euskadi, check out the Basque Festival in Elko or go by J and T's in Gardnerville and ask Marie to sell you a "Nevada, so many sheep, so little time" bumper sticker and then enjoy a Basque feast.
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More About the Author

Mark Kurlansky is a New York Times bestselling and James A. Beard Award-winning author. He is the recipient of a Bon Appétit American Food and Entertaining Award for Food Writer of the Year, and the Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award for Food Book of the year.

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