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The Basque History of the World: The Story…

The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation (1999)

by Mark Kurlansky

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I picked this off the charity shop shelf because it has a great cover. Only realised when I got it home that it's by the author of "Cod" which was one of the earliest (and best) of the books that cover whole epochs via the lens of a single subject. Enjoyed this one just as much - and learnt a lot, although you don't have to believe everything he writes. Quite a few reviewers found his writing boring but I read it in small chunks over several months and was always engaged. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | May 27, 2018 |
The Basque Country, also known as Euskal Herria, consists of the four provinces of the Basque Autonomous Community (Euskadi) in northern Spain (Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa, Alava and Navarra) and three adjacent ones (Labourd, Basse Navarre and Soule) in southwestern France (Pays Basque). The Basque people are believed to be one of the oldest European cultures that are still in existence, and Euskera, the language spoken by the Basques, is the oldest surviving pre-Indo-European language in western Europe and has very little in common with Castilian Spanish or French. The Basque people, especially those in the Spanish portion of the region, have longed and fought fiercely for independence and, more importantly, self governance for centuries, using the Fueros, or regional civil laws, that were agreed upon nearly 500 years ago. The region is known for its cultural traditions including the sport of jai alai, the stunning beach resorts in San Sebastián and Biarritz that are popular tourist destinations, and its outstanding cuisine, particularly pintxos, chorizo and salt cod, which all originated there.

The American journalist Mark Kurlansky's fondness and knowledge of the Basque Region shines in this excellent book, which traces the history and traditions of Euskal Herria from its earliest known days to the end of the 20th century, including its major figures such as Ignacio de Loyola, the priest and theologian who founded the Jesuit religious order; Sabino Arana, the founder of Basque nationalism; and Bernardo Atxaga (Joseba Irazu Garmendia), the first Basque author to receive worldwide acclaim for his work, most notably [Obabakoak], a collection of short stories set in the fictional Basque village of Obaba. Kurlansky also describes the region's rich whaling and shipbuilding traditions, the 1937 bombing of the town of Guernica (Gernika) by German planes, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), the Basque separatist and terrorist group that has maintained its cease fire agreement with the Spanish government since 2010, and the foods that are unique to the region, including at least half a dozen recipes. The focus of the book is on the Spanish Basques, although he does dedicate one chapter to the Pays Basco, who are much more integrated into French government and society.

The Basque History of the World is a readable and entertaining look into this fascinating culture, which was a reasonable length at 400 pages. This was a perfect introduction to my upcoming first visit to the Basque Region, and I highly recommend it to anyone who plans to travel there or is interested in learning more about its people. ( )
  kidzdoc | May 28, 2017 |
A fabulous book. I came to it knowing the Basques only as a linguistic curiosity and I now know they're one of the coolest peoples on the planet and that they discovered America.

No one's going to make any claims for Kurlansky being a great stylist, but he writes well and orders his material very well. What bumped this book up to a five was that it's the only one I've ever read that had a recipe for cat. ( )
1 vote Lukerik | Nov 20, 2015 |
Growing up, the Basques were a vague notion in the corner of my brain reserved for topics that I felt I should know more about. I knew about ETA, I knew that their language was like none other and I guessed they weren't on the winning side in the Spanish Civil War.

So, when a friend recommended "The Basque History of the World", I leapt upon the book. And found that the Basque have played a much bigger role in world history than I thought possible.

Kurlansky is obviously a fan of the Basque and write about them, their nation and their history uncritically, with the odd recipe thrown in for good luck.

This is a good read and a good introduction to the Basques and I came away considerably more au fait about the Basques, and found that my guess about their role in the Spanish Civil War was right. ( )
2 vote MiaCulpa | Mar 26, 2014 |
This had less about the language than I wanted, but it was still an enjoyable listen: George Guidall, European history, marginalized people. It tied in well with Mark Kurlansky���s previous research on cod and salt (if not oysters). I didn���t know that Ignatius Loyola was Basque.

The language thing fascinates me. Not Indo-European! No known relatives! Adopts Spanish words but stubbornly clings to its own grammar! Though I grant that those few facts repeated over the length of a 300-page book might have grown tedious.
1 vote ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140298517, Paperback)

The buzz about the Guggenheim Bilbao aside, the Basques seldom get good press--from the 12th-century Codex of Calixtus ("A Basque or Navarrese would do in a French man for a copper coin") to current news items about ETA, the Basque nationalist group. Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod, sets out to change all that in The Basque History of the World.

"The singular remarkable fact about the Basques is that they still exist," Kurlansky asserts. Without a defined country (other than Euskadi, otherwise known as "Basqueland"), with no known related ethnic groups, the Basques are an anomaly in Europe. What unites the Basques, above all, is their language--Euskera. According to ETA, "Euskera is the quintessence of Euskadi. So long as Euskera is alive, Euskadi will live." To help provide a complete picture of the Basques, Kurlansky looks at their political, economic, social, and even culinary history, from the valiant Basque underground in World War II to medieval whalers to modern makers of the gâteau Basque. The most affecting chapter focuses on Guernica, a small market town bombed by German planes for over three hours on April 26, 1937, and uses interviews with survivors to illustrate the horror of the attack.

Kurlansky is clearly enamored of the Basques, which leads him to see them in a uniformly positive light. That rosy outlook aside, The Basque History of the World is an excellent introduction to these romantic people. Are they the original Europeans? Kurlansky doesn't weigh in on the issue, preferring instead to honor the Basque request Garean gareana legez--let us be what we are. --Sunny Delaney

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:04 -0400)

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Settled in the western Pyrenees Mountains, the Basque nation is not drawn on maps and the origin of their forbidden language has never been discovered. Yet, Basques appear to predate all other cultures in Europe, with many significant global contributions to their credit.… (more)

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