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Salt: A World History

by Mark Kurlansky

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,2481391,569 (3.74)208
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 208 mentions

English (137)  Dutch (1)  All languages (138)
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
First book that I've read by this author. I knew about Lot's wife turning to salt, but had no idea that it was such a precious commodity (which makes sense with no refrigeration). I thought the recipes helped put the community and the time in perspective. I do find myself now wondering, will non-ocean salt ever run out? ( )
  nancynova | Nov 27, 2021 |
Generally, Salt is a pretty enjoyable read for a high level overview history book focusing on a niche subject. And it is exactly that -- a survey of world history seen through the lens of salt (and, apparently, cod and herring).

My complaint about Salt is not its survey nature but the moment the author really starts digging into a subject the chapter ends. This was especially pernicious with the beginning chapters where the topic was super interesting and well researched and the chapter just stops. Multiple times I was shocked to turn a page and... there was a new subject!

Also, the last chapters on "what salt is today" feel very filler-esque. The book more or less ends in the 1920s and then rambles on for a bit. The book could lose the last chapter entirely and nothing would be lost.

It's a fun read -- especially the sections laced with old and ancient recipes full of salt. It's still recommended. 3.5 stars. ( )
  multiplexer | Jun 20, 2021 |
An easy read, with lot of nice stories, and a strong culinary touch. No deep historical and/or economic review of the role of salt, but never the less a good entertaining book. ( )
  deblemrc | Jun 17, 2021 |
An intriguing look at the history of salt production and use throughout the world over time. It seemed to jump around a lot and felt repetitious as it described the process from place to place. ( )
  snash | Apr 5, 2021 |
I normally enjoy microhistories, but this one seemed to be stretching for enough information to fill a book, even getting repetitive at times.

The book jumped around the globe, which was both interesting and troublesome. Interesting because of the technologies that grew at different places around the world at different rates, and because of the political aspects of salt. It was troublesome because it often felt like there was no rhyme or reason as to why any particular jump was made.

I read this for my book group. I probably would have stopped reading it if I weren't leading our discussion this month. ( )
  ssperson | Apr 3, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 137 (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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