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Salt: A World History Paperback – January 28, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Only Kurlansky, winner of the James Beard Award for Excellence in Food Writing for Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, could woo readers toward such an off-beat topic. Yet salt, Kurlansky asserts, has "shaped civilization." Although now taken for granted, these square crystals are not only of practical use, but over the ages have symbolized fertility (it is, after all, the root of the word "salacious") and lasting covenants, and have been used in magical charms. Called a "divine substance" by Homer, salt is an essential part of the human body, was one of the first international commodities and was often used as currency throughout the developing world. Kurlansky traces the history of salt's influences from prehistoric China and ancient Africa (in Egypt they made mummies using salt) to Europe (in 12th-century Provence, France, salt merchants built "a system of solar evaporation ponds") and the Americas, through chapters with intriguing titles like "A Discourse on Salt, Cadavers and Pungent Sauces." The book is populated with characters as diverse as frozen-food giant Clarence Birdseye; Gandhi, who broke the British salt law that forbade salt production in India because it outdid the British salt trade; and New York City's sturgeon king, Barney Greengrass. Throughout his engaging, well-researched history, Kurlansky sprinkles witty asides and amusing anecdotes. A piquant blend of the historic, political, commercial, scientific and culinary, the book is sure to entertain as well as educate. Pierre Laszlo's Salt: Grain of Life (Forecasts, Aug. 6) got to the finish line first but doesn't compare to this artful narrative. 15 recipes, 4o illus., 7 maps.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
In his latest work, Kurlansky (Cod, The Basque History of the World) is in command of every facet of his topic, and he conveys his knowledge in a readable, easy style. Deftly leading readers around the world and across cultures and centuries, he takes an inexpensive, mundane item and shows how it has influenced and affected wars, cultures, governments, religions, societies, economies, cooking (there are a few recipes), and foods. In addition, he provides information on the chemistry, geology, mining, refining, and production of salt, again across cultures, continents, and time periods. The 26 chapters flow in chronological order, and the cast of characters includes fishermen, kings, Native Americans, and even Gandhi. An entertaining, informative read, this is highly recommended for all collections. [For another book on the topic, see Pierre Laszlo's more esoteric Salt: Grain of Life, LJ 7/01; other recent micro-histories include Joseph Amato's Dust, Mort Rosenblum's Olive, and Tom Vanderbilt's The Sneaker Book. Ed.] Michael D. Cramer, Raleigh, N.
- Michael D. Cramer, Raleigh, NC
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
I don't know how Kurlansky accomplished all this research--and managed to make it fascinating, magnetic, and provide endless "aha!" moments in every chapter. You never know where the tale will take you next, yet once you arrive it seems so clear and obvious and yet so surprising and revealing.
A book for everyone--those who love great stories, great writing, history, literature, cultural studies, science journalism, ecology, geography, political science...the list goes on.
One warning--reading this book will make you an annoyance at dinners and cocktail parties because you won't be able to stop talking about this book! Better to make sure your friends and family all secure copies so they don't have suffer under lectures on How The World Really Works.
Reading this review over, I realize it sounds as if it was written by a pal, the publisher or the author. Sorry--I just really loved this book and needed to enthuse. Download a free sample to see what I mean.
Mark Kurlansky's book, Salt: a World History, tells the world's history from the angle of salt and I will never view this commodity substance the same.
Earth has a huge amount of salt. Coastal places clearly have sea water. Inland areas usually have salt mines, sometime as big as a mountain, or salt lakes. Then there are brine springs all around the world. To extract salt from them, we need energy: to dig, to evaporate, to distribute. Historical major saltworks were usually at the location where all three were together: free flowing brine spring, big mountain of rock salt, or long coast lines; forest, coal mine, natural gas, or good weather for solar energy; and river, canal, or sea ports. All those places became major cities which, in turn, shaped most of our history.
Until canning and refrigeration, salting was the only way to preserve food: meat, fish, dairy, and vegetables. Therefore it became the element for survival. Without salt, people could not preserve food and would starve when there was no harvest or the weather turned bad. Salt also won or lost wars. Soldiers needed food to fight; food needed salt. No salt, no rations, no soldiers, no winning. Surprising number of wars were decided by the control of salt. For the US civil war, Union controlled salt better than Confederacy and eventually won.
Many of my favorite foods: smoked salmon, ham, bacon, kimchi, thousand-year egg, etc. came from the old days when salting foods was an everyday business. I learned that Chinese prefer to cook with already salted ingredients: soy sauce, dou-ban, dou-shi, zai-cai, etc. instead of sprinkling salt directly. I also learned how salt makes meat tender by breaking down the protein. This explains the working of curing meat, also why brining chicken makes them tasty.
With cheap energy, salt will be the easiest problem to solve. And the solution is right in front of us: nuclear. Almost all nuclear plants require cooling and what better to use than sea water? Cooling with sea water is the same as heating them up, salt just comes out of that process.
I cannot say this book is a page turner and all those ancient recipes became boring at the end. It surprised me many times with fresh angles and factoids unknown to me. Salt shaped much of human histories and has been largely forgotten, just like many of those cities used to thrive with saltworks. Next time I go to ChengDu, I would have a different perspective for the city.