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Mark Kurlansky: Salt – A World History

27 Feb 2008 · 1 Comment

Several people asked me what I was reading while my answer included “a book about the history of salt.” To my bemusement, this answer was usually greeted with a drawn-out, “oh-kaaay” that seemed to ask, “Why would you want to read that?” if not “Why would anyone want to write that?”

The reaction puzzled me. Before I started the book, I already knew some intriguing facts about salt, for instance that the English word “salary” derives from the use of salt to pay Roman soldiers. I knew vaguely that salt had been important in the preservation of food before refrigeration. What I didn’t know about salt would fill a book, and fortunately Mark Kurlansky has written it. Kurlansky is also the author of books about cod, the Caribbean, and the Basque — all subjects, it turns out, with close ties to salt. (Perhaps a book about cheese, which depends far more on salt than I had known, will be next?) It’s a tribute to how consistently fascinating I found Salt that I want to read them all.

I may take a good while to read them all, as I took a long time to read Salt. The book moves roughly from ancient to modern times and individual chapters often have a geographic focus. Sometimes I got a little overwhelmed trying to keep track of which culture had used which evaporation techniques, and I enjoyed the book most a chapter or so at a time.

But it was chock-a-block with amazing tidbits. Among my favorites were accounts of the disastrous consequences of state-controlled salt monopolies (vigorous black markets; sparking one of Mahatma Ghandi’s early acts of defiance), the Chinese deep-bore mines, and salt-mine tourism at Wieliczka and Dürnberg.

Needs More Demons? Nope.

Tags: food · history · k-author · s-title

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Tim W. // 27 February 2008 at 14:39

    I really liked the history of Tabasco, which was much weirder than I would have guessed.

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