Salt: A World History

March 20, 2013 Uncategorized 10

Title: Salt: A World History
Author: Mark Kurlansky
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Fun Fact: When mummies (preserved with salt) were moved into Cairo in the 1800’s, they were taxed as salted fish.
Review Summary: Mostly an engagingly written overview of history organized around salt, but with a few too many details of specific recipes and cod fishing.

Writing a world history organized by the way everything connects back to salt was a surprisingly brilliant idea. Because salt was a strategic concern in the organization of many countries and their wars, it’s possible to touch on many of the most interesting periods in history by talking about salt. This could very easily have led to a disorganized book, but each chapter focused on a specific country and the book generally moves forward in time. Together, that was enough to give the book a cohesive feel.

The real strength of this book was the combination of a broad historical overview of the role salt played in shaping society with some extremely interesting anecdotes. It made for an entertaining and educational read. It also helped that the author has a very engaging tone. The biggest weakness of this book was the author’s fondness for discussing the cod trade and for sharing exact recipes in the original old English. Despite the author’s best attempts to be interesting, these sections were inevitably dry and/or hard to follow.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and learned so many fun facts I had a hard time choosing one to share at the beginning of the review. It is occasionally dry, but the recipes are easily skimmable and the majority of the book is well worth a read.

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10 Responses to “Salt: A World History”

  1. Geoff W

    I remember when this book was released thinking it would be an interesting read! I know there are other similar ones around cotton or guns, but the idea of salt just seemed really interesting to me.

    • DoingDewey

      I think I picked this one up rather than another object-oriented history because I’d read good reviews, but I enjoyed it enough that I might try some more 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      It was! I wouldn’t say it couldn’t have been better, but it had a lot of fun facts and stories that I enjoyed.

  2. MaryR

    I enjoyed this book too, but I agree with you about the cod. Kurlansky wrote a book about NYC history that is very focused on oysters (not one of his best books) and I think he wrote a book all about cod. The man is apparently interested in seafood.

  3. Jen K

    I liked this one, too, but agree with the overabundance of fish – although, I feel like most of that was towards the beginning, so after the first hundred pages or so it was smooth sailing with a few references here and there. At least, I remember taking longer to get through the beginning.

    • DoingDewey

      It’s been a little bit since I read this, but I think I remember the same thing. Both the recipes and the fish disappeared and made for easier reading at the end 🙂