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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
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
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Spice of Life Dec 8 2003
I was really looking forward to this book, and overall I really liked it. Amazing research and great historical facts. Kurlansky sounds like he had a great time traveling the world for this book's research. What a great job! My only complaint is similar to what the other readers have mentioned--it was pretty lengthy and covered such a large span of history. Then again, salt has been around since the beginning...
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!
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1.0 out of 5 stars A Terrible, Terrible Book Oct. 28 2003
By A Customer
I'm going to cut to the chase. This is literally the worst book I've ever read, and there's a whole book club full of fellow voracious, intelligent readers who agree with me. Only one of us held on to the last, stultifying page, the rest of us having dropped off well before the halfway mark. Reading even that much was an momentous sacrifice in itself.
The book fails in every way: It is poorly organized, hopping around from topic to topic so ridiculously that it's nearly impossible for the reader to get a good general picture of the history of salt. It is incredibly poorly written; I would bet that no editor took a red pen to that manuscript. If one did, then he/she should be fired. I am talking cringe-inducing prose, here. It is boring, unless you like the idea of reading pages and pages and pages about how salt is used to--here's a shocker-cure meat and fish and make pickles. Want to learn, ad nauseum, about fermented fish sauce? This is the book for you! It is sophomoric; there is virtually no original analysis in these pages. The author has done nothing more than take other people's research and put it together in his own way. I learned back in high school that much of the value of a research paper is the original analysis the author provides, which proves he/she has actually done some thinking about the topic. No such thought is in evidence here. This book is nothing more than an tedious research paper that wouldn't garner a C at a decent university. The only reason I bothered to write this review is that I am shocked this book ever got published. Shame on Penguin!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A fascinating read.
Published 2 months ago by Hilary Norman
2.0 out of 5 stars Losely related facts
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 more
Published 5 months ago by Dave the Rave
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended
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 11 months ago by Donna Koziak
4.0 out of 5 stars Salt and Oil - No Change
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 more
Published 16 months ago by dorothy read
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
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