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Salt [Large Print] [Hardcover]

Mark Kurlansky
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 2002 Thorndike Core
From the award-winning and bestselling author of Cod comes the dramatic, human story of a simple substance, an element almost as vital as water, that has created fortunes, provoked revolutions, directed economies and enlivened our recipes.

Salt is common, easy to obtain and inexpensive. It is the stuff of kitchens and cooking. Yet trade routes were established, alliances built and empires secured – all for something that filled the oceans, bubbled up from springs, formed crusts in lake beds, and thickly veined a large part of the Earth’s rock fairly close to the surface. From pre-history until just a century ago – when the mysteries of salt were revealed by modern chemistry and geology – no one knew that salt was virtually everywhere. Accordingly, it was one of the most sought-after commodities in human history. Even today, salt is a major industry. Canada, Kurlansky tells us, is the world’s sixth largest salt producer, with salt works in Ontario playing a major role in satisfying the Americans’ insatiable demand.

As he did in his highly acclaimed Cod, Mark Kurlansky once again illuminates the big picture by focusing on one seemingly modest detail. In the process, the world is revealed as never before.


From the Hardcover edition.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Salt as focus of world history March 25 2004
Format:Paperback
The book tells the story of salt throughout world history: how it was made, how it was traded, how it was used, and the effect the salt industry has had on villages, cities, and regions.
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Taking a love of Salt to its logical extreme Dec 6 2003
Format:Paperback
Salt is one of those things that turned up all over the place in my high school studies. It turned up in chemisty (sodium chloride), in biology (the amount of salt in our bodies and what we do with it), in history and English (check out the root of the word: "salary"). So sure, salt's important. But does it merit its own entire book about its history? Turns out the answer is both yes and no...
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.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Losely related facts April 18 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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. In any case, I do not think that I would spend as much time as MK did in discussing acient recipes for rotted fish guts. Most of the book consists of one historical fact piled upon another. Alghough I enjoyed his other book on Cod, he did not seem to devote the same care and attention to this one. Instead, we get one fact after another barely organized in to country of origin. I hate to rub salt in his wounds, but better give this one a pass.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended Oct. 22 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Salt and Oil - No Change May 16 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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 uncontrolled development of oil. I find it of some interest that the reasoning of the "power & money" boys haven't changed in 400 years. I'm looking for a new script for them.
Dee
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a book June 8 2004
By Paul D
Format:Paperback
This is a gem of a book. It discusses and intertwines the history and importance of salt from prehistoric times until now in the context of the various types of salt, preserving and brining meat, fish and other foods, cooking, cheese making, health, geology, geography, place names, world trade, world history, warfare, art and investments, to name a few topics.
The descriptions of the role of salt in the American Civil War and the Caribbean islands were fascinating. Then there were the Romans, the Mayans, The Aztecs, the Chinese, the French, the Germans, the English, the Dutch, the Russians, the Scandinavians and others and their involvement with salt.
The recipes for cooking with salt are aptly chosen from about 4000 years of recorded history and are remarkably similar to those in use today. The colorful view and history of the San Francisco salt ponds from an airplane were always a bit of mystery to me, but no longer. The origin of towns and cities whose name ends in "wich" was enlightening, to say nothing of Salzburg and the many salt mines in the world.
In short, this book is a grand, well-written, informative and often amusing world panorama of salt filled with a host of pearls of learning. It is hard to put down and makes 449 pages pleasantly fly by, leaving you with a taste for more. If you have ever used salt, you really should read this book.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A fascinating read.
Published 3 days ago by Hilary Norman
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Kurlansky's SALT
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 more
Published on Jan. 19 2012 by R. Maxwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
Once the email was sent saying the product had been shipped it did not take long to arrive at my home. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2011 by P.Jody
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious.
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 more
Published on Aug. 30 2010 by Andrew Gray
4.0 out of 5 stars A Seasoned World History
It took me awhile to pick up this book. I had read about it, had seen it profiled in bookstores, and heard some water cooler talk about it. Too bad I waited so long. Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2010 by Jeffrey Swystun
5.0 out of 5 stars A very different history of the World
Why was the Erie Canal built? Doesn't all salt come from Siberian salt mines? Why is salt so important that Rome paid its soldiers in salt...hence, "salary"! Wow! Read more
Published on Aug. 6 2010 by Sandra Cytrynbaum
5.0 out of 5 stars Salt A World History
Book received in good order as advertised Very Happy with purchase and seller.
Dan Hall
Published on April 21 2010 by D. Hall
3.0 out of 5 stars The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between...
Having read the reviews below, I can't help but feel that readers are of two minds about this book, and Kurlansky himself. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2007 by Craig Jenkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely worth his salt . . .
It's become a party cliche to comment on our need for the results of combining a poisonous gas [chlorine] and a volatile metal [sodium]. Read more
Published on April 6 2004 by Stephen A. Haines
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