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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
This is an excellent story from a top flight writer.
If you like wide-ranging and well-written books such as those written by Jared Diamond, you'll love this book. I've enjoyed reading, especially history all my life, and this book is the reason why: I learned a lot I didn't know.
I certainly never realized that salt has been critical to human existence for thousands of years. From prehistoric times, the easily obtainable salt supply was far more limited than now, and salt sources were often the basis of human settlements word-wide throughout history until only recently.
The book is never tedious or boring. Reading the book showed me (once again) that a well-written history book can be a fascinating enjoyment.
The book did not seem to be well organized. It seemed scattered and jumped around from region to region and time period to time period. I don't care for a stream of consciousness approach for a non-fiction book. I have to admit, however, I prefer fiction and am spoiled by the likes of Bill Bryson for non-fiction. So my non-fiction bar is set pretty high.
This, unfortunately, was a disappointment. I tried to read this book a few years ago and couldn't get into. I forced myself this time, hoping to maybe find portions I could have my students read. But this book was a burden to get through.
This book examines some really fascinating portions of history and the role salt played. You learn a lot of fascinating anecdotes and even some etymology. It is clearly thoroughly researched and covers every part of the globe, not just Europe/USA.
Not all chapters are created equal. Some are riveting, others are quite boring. It seems that nothing was left out. Anything remotely related to salt is included. I frequently found myself asking "why is this in the book?" Too often the stories told seem to have little relevance to world history, other than the fact that they happened and salt was involved. This book could have been 20-30% shorter. The writing style was fine, but the content was too often unfocused and unconnected.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment is that the book simply ends. There is no real attempt to examine the overarching role of salt in world history. That is left up to the reader. No forward looks either.
Kurlansky's book Cod was phenomenal and I would recommend it to everyone. This one? Probably not.