Salt: A World History
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Salt: A World History

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  24,147 ratings  ·  1,912 reviews
From the Bestselling Author of Cod and The Basque History of the World

In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky 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 substanc...more
Paperback, 484 pages
Published January 28th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jane
I was very non-plussed by this book. Kurlansky does not do a very good job of presenting his topic. In my opinion he was just throwing out about any facts he could find about salt. In a way he ties it together. He discusses how ancient Chinese used salt; how northern Europeans used salt; how salt was mined; etc. I got that salt is a major natural resource that is the basis for cuisine and culture throughout the world, but I was still asking myself the question, "And?" Kurlansky left me wonderin...more
Jeanette
Well, I'll be pickled!
We say we'll take something with a grain of salt as if it's nothing, but much of the history of the world is tied up in the quest for salt. It's not nothing. We're fortunate to have it in such abundance that we can take it for granted and worry about getting too much of it in our diets. For most of human existence that was not the case.

The material here is thorough and often fascinating, but you must have a strong interest in history if you hope to get through it. Had I t...more
Amos
This was the first so-called "commodity history" that I've read, and I'm sorry to say it might have turned me completely off the damn things. I'm not entirely sure why this book is so popular and so widely read, since it strikes me as simply a series of stories by Mark Kurlansky that quickly settle into the same basic mantra, which is: 1) Here is this culture; 2) Like the twenty other cultures I have just introduced to you, salt was also important to this culture; 3) These are the ways they gath...more
Chrissie
I very much enjoyed this book on world history, roled like a ball of yarn around the role salt played in this history. I think that different readers will enjoy different aspects of the book. There is something for everyone. I particularly enjoyed the sections on Chinese ancient history, on French salt production on Noirmoutier and Ile de Ré and also the perspective of how French salt taxes (gabelle) influenced the French revolution. This was interesting becuase other books stress the role of th...more
J
Mark Kurlansky is a historical writer who does what one reviewer referred to as the “little-big” style of writing, that is to say, he takes something little and often overlooked and from it he spins out larger truths about society and the world. To say that he does this well would be an understatement.

Salt: A World History, his fascinating history of this overlooked cooking seasoning, makes a couple very good points in its introduction. Because of its current cheapness and easy availability, we...more
Elana

AIYIYI... I just couldn't take this book. I was determined to read it after I chose it for a challenge I had entered but my goodness was it a struggle. I don't know if it was because I had just finished a textbook size of a book that was purely about science (A Short History of Nearly Everything) and was in major fiction withdrawal, or the fact that this book was breathtakingly boring, but I could literally not read more than 15 pages before I actually started to drift off into a deep slumber....more
Laura
Sep 24, 2007 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: non-fiction, food
This book changed my life. I picked it up because fiction novels were all looking the same to me, and because it was thick enough to last the long train ride from Dusseldorf to Maastricht. School textbooks were the only non-fiction I'd ever read, and they had not prepared me for the vibrant and engaging writing found in Salt. Since reading this book I have become a devoted fan of non-fiction writing, which has exposed me to a whole new world of literature.
rivka
May 21, 2012 rivka rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those looking for factoids more than facts, and entertainment more than academic rigor
Shelves: non-fiction
While certainly an interesting and often entertaining read, with many historic details I had never heard before, this book is seriously flawed in several ways.

It has a bibliography, but no footnotes or endnotes. Given that on those subjects that I had detailed pre-knowledge, I found details that were misinterpreted, glossed over, or just plain wrong, I can only assume the same is true for the subjects I didn't know about before reading this book. But without detailed endnotes (which a book of th...more
Benjamin
450 pages is a lot of salt. Though interesting by the end I was very ready to be done with it.
Tracey
Previously read Sept 2003 - Checked this out from the library on the recommendation of Carla Irene

The title is pretty self-explanatory: the book discusses how salt was accessed, processed, sold and used from ancient times through today. I was pleased to see non-European cultures were included - especially since China and India have had such a rich history entwined with this essential mineral. However, I would have liked to see more info about North & South America and sub-Saharan Africa, and...more
Kian
Jul 18, 2007 Kian rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Foodies
The history of salt is super interesting, and I learned a lot of amazing facts about human history from reading this book, BUT... the editing was pretty bad. I mean, it has to be pretty bad for you to actually notice that a book is really poorly written. Chapters would end out of nowhere, there were tons of non-sequiturs, etc. It got progressively worse as I got through the book- and then towards the end it became an advertisement for Mortons Salt. I'd recommend this book from a library, but not...more
Olivia
Jan 06, 2009 Olivia marked it as to-read
I have tried to digest this book called Salt, especially as a food reviewer, and a history buff in training, but I think I will throw it over my left shoulder as I can't get past the taste of the endless first chapter on ancient Asian governments.

The book is pretty well written and full of great pictures and interesting salty tid-bits, but maybe its a bit too ambitious to try to tell the history of the world through a pure salt perspective?!

The value of the mineral, and the elaborate way it was...more
Dena
This book was completely fascinating! Sure, human population didn't really take off until we started staying put in one place and domesticating animals and crops, but what do you think preserved those food staples? Salt! Salt didn't just play a role with how we preserve food, but entire wars and civilizations rose and fell due (in part) to their hold on salt. Seriously! Venice became a huge European powerhouse in the middle ages because of their saltworks, and I learned that salt even played a p...more
Teresa Lukey
This book is about so much more than salt. A friend asked me what I was listening oo while listening to this one and they thought it sounded like an absurd thing to read about. I'm inclined to believe that many people might turn away from this book based on that fact, but I found it to be chalked full of so many interesting facts from some of the earliest history.

I found all the information presented in the book a little overwhelming at times and I do believe I would have given it 5 stars had I...more
First Second Books
I love this cover!

Also I know no more things about salting fish than is reasonable for any human to know, much less a vegetarian-type human.

One of the things this book makes me wonder is, are the subjects of books always so central? One of the chapters of this book basically runs, ‘Salt is THE turning point to the US Civil War,’ which seems fine when you’re reading, but when you think about it, you’re like – slavery, states’ rights, railroads, etc. etc. etc., all of which also seem like they co...more
Cy
An interesting survey of the geography and politics of salt. A hodgepodge of random information about how a small but essential substance has indelibly impacted from Israeli tourist development on the Dead Sea to elite fascination with touring underground salt mines to variations in Chinese cuisine and health contingent upon salt availability. Salt: A World History is an example of the kind of historiography I truly enjoy. Rather than trying to discuss an entire country, continent or civilizatio...more
Quin
the author read everything there is to read about salt. then he relentlessly put every bit of it in this book. you will wish for the end waay before you get there, i promise.
Jason
A beautiful exploration into the role this substance has played in the human grand narrative.
The first two thirds were very informative and interesting, but it wasn't until I got to the section about India that I was totally enthralled. The story of how Ghandi used the British imposed salt laws, and his disobedience of them, to gain freedom for his country was truly riveting.
I can't help but draw parallels between this story and other moments in history. It's long been a fact that civic rebell...more
Cricket
You know you're a writing tutor when you fantasize about conversing with the author over his organization strategies.No, seriously. I had an entire dialog in my head about it. How did you organize this book? Does each section have a main concept or idea? Does every chapter and/or paragraph help move towards this idea? Can you find any that don't? Let's read through some of these paragraphs together and you can tell me where you think something might be tangential to the main idea.

This book meand...more
Courtney
Officially two stars is supposed to mean "it was okay" and one star is supposed to signify "I didn't like it," but there are many degrees of books I dislike and this one was moderately better than it could have been. The writing is OK, Kurlanky has energy, but he attacked this work of non-fiction with no clear agenda.

If there's a thesis beyond "salt is important," Kurlansky fails to articulate it. If there's a logic to how this book is organized, that's not clear either. Chapters don't seem to...more
Susan Jung
A thorough journey into salt, this book was highly informative and entertaining. I was initially drawn to this book for I am a self-proclaimed foodie and salt lover, so to explore the journeys of salt was quite exciting.

A book filled with history and interesting tidbits (i.e. the term salary comes from sal, the Latin word for salt) this book was definitely fun and interesting. I would recommend this book to any who are interested in food and history. A great combination and a fun read!



Cynthia
It did make me appreciate sauerkraut more.
Lo
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I would highly recommend it for intelligent people looking for a little bit of 'novelty' history in their lives (or people training for Jeopardy).

When you first hear the title of this book, one's first reaction is generally to chuckle because, let's be serious, what is there to the history of salt? It's just a mineral!

Well, Kurlansky tells us that there is a lot to the history of salt and that our lives and history are intricately tied to the location and usag...more
Benjamin Duffy
If I'd stopped halfway through this book, I probably would have given it two stars. It's a look into world history, seen through the lens of the salt industry over the years. It wasn't especially gripping in the early going, coming across quite a bit like a freshman-level college history text. The lack of footnotes or endnotes annoyed me as well, as I am one of those weird people who actually uses them, either to confirm accurately portrayed primary source material, or as signposts to further re...more
mim
What a book! As I was reading it, I wavered between "this is so dense with facts and boring" to "this is sooo interesting." Well, it's both. There were parts that I skimmed over and parts that made me share them immediately. I would want to stop reading then would come to a part about either a place I've visited or a know about from some reason or other, and then I'd be drawn back into the book. I learned a lot, that's for sure. The part dealing with chemistry interested me a great deal. I was s...more
Wealhtheow
A fascinating study of salt throughout human history. I really appreciate that Kurlansky did not forget about the non-Western world in writing about this book (although there is rather more about American salt practices than most other countries--unsurprising, given Kurlansky's language, previous books, and nationality). My only criticism of this book is that it has a tendency toward anecdotes rather than data, especially toward the end. There are no sum-ups or final conclusions drawn in the las...more
Morgane
I learned some cool things. But it read more like a series of essays rather than a cohesive book, and unless you have a really keen interest in the history of salt, it'll start getting repetitive. tl;dr people really like salt.
Praxedes
This book is paradoxically well researched yet incomplete. It focuses on salt as a food product almost exclusively, leaving out other uses for this compound. By the author's own admission, more than half of the salt in the US is not used for cooking, yet there is painfully little about other applications, such as de-icing roads, as a pharmacological ingredient, etc. Moreover, the book is probably sixty pages longer than necessary due to the author's insistence of recounting ancient recipes. If y...more
Jacquie
You know it's a bad sign when the only reason you drag yourself through a book is simply so you can get it off your 'Currently Reading' shelf. I love history and this should be a fascinating subject but instead it's just a random mess. According to the author the Chinese invented everything and everyone else in history is merely mimicking their discoveries. A good 40-50% of this book is dedicated to painstaking descriptions of how every culture makes salted fish/meat. At first the ancient recipe...more
Crystal
This book is endlessly fascinating. Who knew that wars were fought for salt, people were enslaved to work it, roads and waterways built to transport it, fortunes made and lost, and much much more? Well, somebody knew, but I certainly didn't. Anthony Bourdain says of the book, "The fascinating indispensable history of an indispensable ingredient...a must-have for any serious cook or foodie." I would add for any history buff as well. There are so many interesting tidbits about food, origins of wor...more
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Stillwater Free L...: Salt: A World History 1 6 Jun 03, 2014 10:37AM  
Goodreads Librari...: combine editions 2 10 May 06, 2014 05:17AM  
world history 8 32 May 01, 2014 02:32PM  
combine editions 1 2 Apr 26, 2014 11:32AM  
Science and Natur...: August 2013: Salt: A World History 4 44 Sep 17, 2013 03:29AM  
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1847
Mark Kurlansky (born 7 December 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut) is a highly-acclaimed American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He is especially known for titles on eclectic topics, such as cod or salt.

Kurlansky attended Butler University, where he harbored an early interest in theatre and earned a BA in 1970. However, his interest faded and he began to work as a journalist in...more
More about Mark Kurlansky...
Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell The Food of a Younger Land: The WPA's Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II America 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

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