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Salt: A World History

by Mark Kurlansky

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,8941231,546 (3.76)186
This book takes a look at an ordinary substance--salt, the only rock humans eat--and how it has shaped civilization from the very beginning.

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» See also 186 mentions

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If this was the only history book a person read, he would conclude that world history revolved around salt. I wonder about some of the numbers - did Romans really consume 25 grams per day? Are Americans consuming 135 grams today? I dismissed it as a typo until I read 40 grams/day for xxxx, vs 70 grams/day nowadays. Fact checking coming up.

Americans consume about 3,500 mg/day of sodium; men more, women less. The very large percentage of the population consumes 1,150-5,750 mg/day which is termed the "hygienic safety range" of sodium intake by renowned Swedish hypertension expert Dr. Björn Folkow.

A 2009 meta-analysis found that the sodium consumption of 19,151 individuals from 33 countries fit into the narrow range of 2,700 to 4,900 mg/day. The small range across many cultures, together with animal studies, suggest that sodium intake is tightly controlled by feedback loops in the body, making recommendations to reduce sodium consumption below 2,700 mg/day potentially futile.[72] Upon review of recent evidence, an expert committee commissioned by the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there was no health outcome-based rationale for reducing daily sodium intake levels below 2,300 milligrams, as had been recommended by previous dietary guidelines; the report did not have a recommendation for an upper limit of daily sodium intake.[73][74]

Fact check done - perhaps Kurlansky's number is total salt usage rather than dietary consumption.

It was a very pleasant read. Perhaps the most enjoyable part was that he stayed away from the dietary salt controversy until the end of the book, and even then only mentioned it before backing out of the fray.

A few of the interesting parts:
- The gradual discovery of salts other than sodium chloride.
- Morton implementing modern methods of salt production and buying up smaller producters.
- After centuries of wanting and valuing pure salt, dirty salt has become more valued (for table use). It used to be of lower value, and now commands a premium.
- Brine Shrimp
- In and around the Dead Sea

The one minus was that he tosses around the names of locations & I didn't have a handle on where in the world they were.

A related book that caused me to read this one is: [b:Lot's Wife: Salt and the Human Condition|1064430|Lot's Wife Salt and the Human Condition|Sallie Tisdale|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1266479397s/1064430.jpg|1051073]. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
The topic of salt provides an interesting lens for learning about history, geography, geology, exploration, and cooking. And Kurlansky is a great storyteller. Felt a bit long at times but I suspect you could read even the first third or half and learn quite a bit about salt. ( )
  szbuhayar | May 24, 2020 |
This is an interesting "world history" from the perspective of salt. The book includes everything from the manufacture, trade, geo-politics, socio-economic, revolutions, wars, science, cultural and culinary impact of salt in Asia, Europe, North America.

This book is not only about salt, but includes juicy tit-bits about all sorts of other topics such as purple dye from murex mollusks, salt for mummification, salted fish, preserving food with salt, salt in cheese making and recipes for such things as salted fish, salted meat, ham, sauerkraut etc. After reading this book you will never look at salt in the same way again.

Minus one star for failing to mention Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America in a "world history".

Random interesting fact: "In the nineteenth century, when mummies from Saqqara and Themes were taken from tombs and brought to Cairo they were taxed as salted fish before being permitted entry to the city." ( )
  ElentarriLT | Mar 24, 2020 |
Writing a global history of salt is a great idea, but this book is not it. It covers Ancient Rome, the US, UK and France, plus there is a token chapter on China. Granted, a truly global history would require a team of researchers, but even with that in mind, this author could have done better on both the research and the writing front. I had the impression that the book was built on easily accessible sources in English, many of which he had used for his earlier books (there is a lot on cod here). The writing feels as if the editor had received the manuscript an hour before it had to sent to print: the combination of history and journalism is not handled well. A disappointment overall. ( )
1 vote LubicaP | Mar 21, 2020 |
Did not finish. Interesting, but not enough to keep turning pages. Gave up about 1/2 way through ( )
  Grace.Van.Moer | Feb 17, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 121 (next | show all)
Who would have thought that musings on an edible rock could run to 450 breathless pages?

Let me hasten to add that Salt turns out to be far from boring. With infectious enthusiasm, Kurlansky leads the reader on a 5,000-year sodium chloride odyssey through China, India, Egypt, Japan, Morocco, Israel, Africa, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, England, Scandinavia, France and the US, highlighting the multifarious ways in which this unassuming chemical compound has profoundly influenced people's lives.
added by mysterymax | editThe Guardian, Chris Lavers (Feb 15, 2002)

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mark Kurlanskyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bekker, Jos denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
del Rey, María JoséCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klausner, LisaPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Liefting, SteefCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miró, CarlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rapho/GerstenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruggeri, F.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.

—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776
All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.

—Karl Marx, speech, 1856
Dreams are not so different from deeds as some may think. All the deeds of men are only dreams at first. And in the end, their deeds dissolve into dreams.

—Theodore Herzel, Old New Land, 1902
A country is never as poor as when it seems filled with riches.

—Laozi quoted in the
Yan tie lun,
A Discourse on Salt and Iron, 81 B.C.
At the time when Pope Pius VII had to leave Rome, which had been conquered by revolutionary French, the committee of the Chamber of Commerce in London was considering the herring fishery. One member of the committee observed that, since the Pope had been forced to leave Rome, Italy was probably going to become a Prtestant country. "Heaven help us," cried another member. "What," responded the first, "would you be upset to see the number of good Protestants increase?" "No," the other answered," it isn't that, but suppose there are no more Catholics, what shall we do with our herring?"

—Alexander Dumas, Le grand dictionnaire de cuisine, 1873
To my parents, Roslyn Solomon and Philip Mendel Kurlansky, who taught me to love books and music


to Talia Feiga, who opened worlds while she slept in the crook of my arm.
First words

I bought the rock in Spanish Catalonia, in the rundown hillside mining town of Cardonia.
Chapter One
A Mandate of Salt

Once I stood on the bank of a rice paddy in rural Sichuan Province, and a lean and aging Chinese peasant, wearing a faded forty-year-old blue jacked issued by the Mao government in the early years of the Revolution, stood knee deep in water and apropos of absolutely nothing shouted defiantly at me, "We Chinese invented many things!"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Do not combine Salt: A History with The Story of Salt. The Story of Salt is a much shorter, illustrated version of Salt aimed at children.
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