Salt Hardcover – Large Print, Jul 2002
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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 alternate Hardcover edition.
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 alternate Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book starts and ends in China, first describing the brine wells and the advanced drilling techniques the Chinese invented centuries ago. The text then moves to how salt was used in Roman times describing a sauce called garum made from pickled and fermented fish parts. Kurlansky then continues with Mediteranean fish industry. Salt's main use was in preserving fish. The next big change came when cod was found off the coast of Newfoundland. Cod's low fat meant more salt was needed.
Eventually, the American colonies developed their own salt and cod industries. Kurlansky describes the importance of salt in the American Civil War, how salt works led to the marketing of Tabasco sauce, how canals were dug through New York state to take salt from the Great Lakes to the coast.
After a quick recounting of how salt was used by Ghandi to spark India's revolution, the book ends back in China and how the salt industry there has moved into the modern age. The old traditional derricks are gone; no one wanted to pay to preserve even the most important ones as historical landmarks.
Kurlanski gives a good outline of how salt was taxed in various parts of the world. His description of how the salt tax was an important factor in both the French and Indian revolutions deserves special mention.
As he describes how salt was traded and produced, Kurlanky peppers his narrative (sorry...) with short recipes that illustrate how salt was used in different parts of the world and at different times of our history.
If you love food and history, you'll love this book. If you love one and only moderately like the other, you'll find the book bogs down a bit.
I like these small, focused histories (as you've probably guessed if you've read any of the other reviews I've written). I've read many of them, including another one by Mark Kurlansky, Cod (which I rather enjoyed). So when I ran across Salt, I was certain I wanted to read it. I liked Kurlansky's style, and I already knew that the subject matter would be interesting.
And it was. In Salt, Kurlansky walks through both the history of salt and the influence of salt on history, presenting a wide and varied picture of one of the [now] most common elements in our modern world. And he does this in the same engaging fashion that he used in Cod; although, with fewer recipes. So why not give it five stars? Well, it has a couple of noticable flaws that tended to detract a bit from the overall presentation.
The first flaw was in the sheer number of historical snippets that were included. While I'm certain that salt has been important in the broad span of human history, there are a number of these historical anecdotes where he was clearly reaching to demonstrate the influence of salt. Salt may have been involved in these incidents, but it was peripheral at best, and the overall tone sounds too much like cheerleading. Cutting a few of these out would have shortened the book without detracting from the presentation at all.
The second flaw was the meandering path that he takes through the history of salt.Read more ›
I must add that you will get a much greater kick out of this book if you have some basic knowledge of world history. The fun and charm of the book lies in the wildly different interpretations of world events than the ones taught in schools.
Salt is something that we take for granted now, but in the past it was so precious it was actually used as a currency. Whomever had the salt had the power.
Some of the most interesting parts of the book were when the preservation powers of salt were mentioned: The ancient Celts that were found in Hellein, Austria hundreds of years later in the underground salt mine, preserved down to their brightly-colored kilts!
My other favorite part was Chapter 22, about the Dead Sea. I really enjoyed reading about this because I was there in 2000 and was amazed and mystified by the awesome lake, and the areas surrounding it. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea is evaporating at such a rapid rate that geologists are predicting that it may not be around in thirty years, and may even dry up before then. I am glad I was able to see this natural wonder before it was too late.
Kurlansky's writing style was great, and I am looking forward to reading his other books... one of them is on my shelf, and this book served as the impetus to pick that one up very soon!
Most recent customer reviews
An interesting and excellent read. Much information gleaned.
It was loose in the package and I was concerned it might have got damaged, but it was ok.
I don't know about you, but if someone told me that my diet for the next 2K years was going to consists of rotted fish parts and bread I think I would bring my own lunch. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Dave the Rave
This has to be one of the most interesting books ever written. Tons of stuff I never knew before, and all told in fascinating stories.Published on Oct. 22 2013 by Donna Koziak
After hearing an interview on the radio with the author, I was interested in the apparent parellel between "the salt wars" and the arguments being used today for the... Read morePublished on May 16 2013 by dorothy read
This was one of the most informative and entertaining books I have read. The history is fascinating, the subject is of the earth and of the people, of food and survival, of... Read morePublished on Jan. 19 2012 by R. Maxwell
Once the email was sent saying the product had been shipped it did not take long to arrive at my home. Read morePublished on Nov. 12 2011 by P.Jody
No doubt packed with fascinating facts and trivia about salt, it is a tedious slog to read. The tale is not told in an engaging way, and it just gets bogged down in endless... Read morePublished on Aug. 30 2010 by Andrew Gray