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Salt: A World History

by Mark Kurlansky

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,0321641,606 (3.73)222
History. Nonfiction. HTML:

Mark Kurlansky, the bestselling author of Cod and The Basque History of the World, here turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Kurlansky's kaleidoscopic history is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.

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» See also 222 mentions

English (160)  Dutch (1)  All languages (161)
Showing 1-5 of 160 (next | show all)
Enjoyed it, a lot of tying history together and the start of bigger things - taxation, money, trade etc.. Easy to drop and pick up easily. Lots of recipes. ( )
  SteveMcI | Jan 6, 2024 |
Absolutely gorgeous and thought provoking book about humanity's relationship with the only rock we eat. From the very first handful of paragraphs, it's obvious the author has a keen interest in the subject, and a sharp sense of humour. Every chapter is mind blowing. Ancient and far reaching, the story of this ubiquitous compound that has changed lives around the dinner table and altered the path of empires is truly enlightening. Highly recommend it. ( )
  nakedspine | Nov 16, 2023 |
I got this from Paul for Christmas a couple years ago. It is an excellent history of our world (albeit a mostly Western history) thru the manufacture, commerce and use of salt. It was a fascinating read. Never did I think a story about salt would have some surprising twists and turns, and surprisingly it did. A must read for any fan of the ubiquitous mineral.

Quotes:
A Breton expression was "Kement a zo fall, a gar ar sall", Everything that is not good asks to be salted. Everything from meat to butter to potatoes was salted. Salt was Brittany's cheapest product, the one everyone could afford. Another Breton proverb was "Aviz hag holen a roer d'an nep a c'houlenn" - Advice and salt are available to anyone who wants it.

By 1849, when Henry David Thoreau visited the Cape, he was already writing about saltworks being broken up and sold for lumber. Those boards, used to build storage sheds, were still leaching salt crystals 100 years later. ( )
  mahsdad | Oct 23, 2023 |
An enjoyable and enlightening, but ultimately rather surface-y look at the history and impact of salt on civilization. I will admit that I never thought that much about boring old salt, and certainly never realized what a political and economic force the harvesting and control of salt has been across cultures over time. Kurlansky is a very readable writer and this book has more interesting factoids per page than almost anything I've ever read. That being said, the litany of facts and brief dips into cultures and time periods never lets an argument cohere and while it is fun to read in the moment, after I was done I felt like something was lacking. The scope of the book probably makes this kind of shallow but broad survey necessary, but I would have liked more connecting threads to pull the factoids together. Kurlansky also has a tendency to slide in personal commentary / snarky jokes here and there that read very awkwardly mixed in with the historic and scientific facts. If I could, I'd give it a 4.5 while reading it and a 3 after I was done and had some time to think about it. ( )
  kristykay22 | Oct 2, 2023 |
A big disappointment. I'd been really looking forward to this book and was pleased to find it at a neighbor's yard sale. It suffers from a weak structure, a lack of unifying themes or patterns, and despite the title, the absence of a world view. Where is South America, Central America, or Africa (apart from Egypt) in this discussion? Instead of relentless historical details about European salt production and use, I would have been much more interested in a look at how salt was produced and used across the globe at different points in time. ( )
  lschiff | Sep 24, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 160 (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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
To my parents, Roslyn Solomon and Philip Mendel Kurlansky, who taught me to love books and music

and

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

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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History. Nonfiction. HTML:

Mark Kurlansky, the bestselling author of Cod and The Basque History of the World, here turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Kurlansky's kaleidoscopic history is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.

.

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