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Salt: A World History

by Mark Kurlansky

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,6351481,580 (3.74)217
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 217 mentions

English (146)  Dutch (1)  All languages (147)
Showing 1-5 of 146 (next | show all)
Fun book, well-written. A great way to learn about commerce and history from a particular perspective. Maybe a bit too long, but enjoyable. ( )
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
Salt. Everyone loves salt. Some people even crave salt. After reading Kurlansky's book on the subject I am better versed on all things salt. I am ready for a trivia game about salt. I now know salt is associated with fertility in some cultures and that Egyptians salted their mummies before burial. I know almost no geological area is without salt. Salt has been used as a currency. There is salt in gun powder. Salt is responsible for soy sauce's humble beginnings. The difference between creating alcohol and a pickle is salt. I never thought about how salt is the only rock people willing eat in great quantities or how every fluid in the body contains some percentage of salt. I could go on and on. Kurlansky takes his readers on a historical journey through epic wars like the American Revolution, the Civil War and beyond, all the while keeping salt as the main ingredient. You will never look at a shaker of salt the same way again. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Dec 31, 2022 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this. It's a straight up history, and I found it not at all boring. On some level I knew salt was historically important, but that's about it. Its importance, it's perceived rarity, the lengths cultures would go to for salt - I had no idea. Needless to say, I learned a lot, and I liked it. So much so that I found myself listening to this outside my car trips as I did mundane tasks at work that didn't require my attention (cleaning tech). Included throughout the text are recipes - mostly historical, but even so, it makes me wish I had a printed copy of this book for my shelves.

The narrator, Scott Brick, gets a lot of credit for the rating. He did a fantastic job, reading this as if the thoughts were his own and you were in the midst of an enjoyable conversation. Very natural, and his voice extremely pleasant to listen to. ( )
  murderbydeath | Dec 8, 2022 |
I read Mark Kurlansky's Salt as a selection for the 2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge. It is a history of the discovery, mining, sale and taxing of salt by cities and nations from 3600 BCE to the present. It is Kurlansky's 5th nonfiction book and here he explains how salt has shaped civilization from the its very beginning and how its story is an important part of the history of humans. For most of its history, salt has been used as a currency, influenced the establishment of European trade routes as well as cities, provoked wars between cities and inspired revolutions. Civilizations in China, Greece, Egypt and Rome all discovered salt on their own at about the same time. None of them can say that they discovered salt, although all of them make this claim. In each case, salt was discovered when lake and river waters evaporated in the sun. People harvested the square crystals on the surface of the water. Almost immediately it was used to preserve fish. As a necessary commodity for sustaining life, ancient politicians knew that they could make money by taxing the sale of salt. Cities that had saltmines made money from harvesting it while others that did not have this resource made money by regulating it. It is interesting that salt is a rock, the only rock that humans eat.

The book reads like a textbook, which in my mind is a negative. Almost every other sentence contains a new fact and made the book an overwhelming one to read. Kurlansky has found a salt connection nearly everywhere, especially in the modern era. The Erie Canal was built for the sake of salt, which needed to be moved from the upstate Onondaga region to New York City. The West Indian slave trade was primarily underwritten by sales of salt, even more than by molasses and rum. So how did salt encourage revolution? It was the salt tax in India that inspired Mohandas K. Gandhi to start a rebellion that led to independence. The American Revolutionary War as partly incited by salt shortages.

While it is pretty cool to amass these interesting facts about salt, the book itself is a hard and sometimes dull book to read. ( )
  Violette62 | Sep 1, 2022 |
Ákaflega fróðleg og lifandi saga um efni sem mér datt ekki í hug að hefði ráðið jafn miklu og það gerði um gang sögunnar.
Saltið hefur verið efnahagsleg undirstaða stórvelda og gegnt undirstöðu hlutverki í matseld um allan heim. Mark Kurlansky fjallar á heillandi máta um áhrif salts í einstökum löndum og heimsálfum allt frá því fyrst er vitað af saltvinnslu til dagsins í dag. Hann gefur þætti þess í matargerð einnig góðar gætur í gegnum söguna og í bókinni má finna urmull uppskrifta af réttum og sérkennilegum matarhefðum í gegnum aldirnar. ( )
  SkuliSael | Apr 28, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 146 (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.)
Disambiguation notice
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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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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