Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Salt: A World History” as Want to Read:
Salt: A World History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Salt: A World History

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  64,176 ratings  ·  3,794 reviews
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 substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establish ...more
Paperback, 484 pages
Published January 28th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published January 31st 2002)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Salt, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Michael Ever heard the phrase "the dose makes the poison"? Everything is toxic if you reach the right dose, salt included. Salt is a critical nutrient to most…moreEver heard the phrase "the dose makes the poison"? Everything is toxic if you reach the right dose, salt included. Salt is a critical nutrient to most animal diets, drop it too low, and you'll end up with hyponatremia. Luckily this is a rare risk in modern diets.(less)
Dawnine Clews not "non obvious" - as many people have found to their detriment. Even drinking too much water can stress your organs and cause damage. The degree at …morenot "non obvious" - as many people have found to their detriment. Even drinking too much water can stress your organs and cause damage. The degree at which each thing becomes toxic is dependent on the specific balances of your own system - meaning that what is right for you may not be right for me.
So there is no definitive amount where you can draw a line - but it makes the substances no less toxic when taken in excess.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.72  · 
Rating details
 ·  64,176 ratings  ·  3,794 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Salt: A World History
Petra's mechanic says her car isn't worth fixing
Update, May 2021 Where I live has the most exclusive and best-tasting salt in the world. All over the Caribbean are salt ponds fringed with mangroves. Once every ten years or so there will be a major storm which will fill the ponds with water, and then there will be a drought of at least four months, which will evaporate it completely leaving huge salt crystals, untainted by any pollution at all, since there is no industry for thousands of miles. This salt is the saltiest salt you've ever tasted ...more
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chris Lavers started his review of this book for the Guardian with speculation on how an author can get released from publisher’s contract. The publisher receives priority by including a “first refusal” clause on a second book. You merely present your publisher with stunningly unappealing material. If they choose not to publish, then you are free to go elsewhere. A history of salt should work.

Mostly, a foodie history with emphasis on the historical importance of salt for food preservation. There
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Let them eat salt! Literally, let everyone do so, as we all need a (moderate) dose of it. Such is one of the early discoveries in Mark Kurlansky’s biography of salt and how it shaped the world. Kurlansky uses his attention to detail and ability to entertain the curious reader in this book that explores much of how salt came to be found on most tables around the world, as well as some of the key customs and traditions that have lasted for centuries, if not millennia. The book places salt’s import ...more
Sep 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
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. ...more
Mar 05, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
What a disappointment this was. Kurlansky clearly has searched complete encyclopaedias on the word 'salt' and has poured it all down in this book, with no connecting narrative or analysis. Facts, myths and stories are mixed almost randomly. And okay, you do get the impression that salt has played a very important role throughout history, and even all around the world, but in the end you're stuck with a dizzying amount of (unreliable) facts. Kurlansky even has the annoying habit of adding all kin ...more
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
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
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 11, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Oct 17, 2009 rated it did not like it

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.
Micah Cummins
May 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky is an enthralling work. Immaculately researched and presented in a coherent and understandable way, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was shocked most of the time by how much of a major role salt has played in both modern and ancient human history. Both in a militarist and economic sense, salt has in many ways been the fuel for human advancement. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for an incredibly engaging non-fiction read. Five stars.
Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting story of Salt through the ages but a bit repetitive at times.
There are sections of this book that are fascinating (5-star) and other sections that are long, tedious and dull (1-star). I'm settling on "I liked it" (3-star) for the overall book.

It's a bit scattered in it's formatting. There is salt through the ages, salt through cultures, salt through countries. A lot of the information is overlapping and repeated. It may have been an idea to have a chapter on the similar aspects of
Dec 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
I think this book should have been called Salt: It's Dry. I'm about 25% through it and I'm throwing in the towel (and possibly tossing salt over my shoulder for luck). There was just nothing about the writing or the information presented that was even mildly interesting. Moving on... ...more
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, audiobook
This is based upon the audio download from []

Narrated by: Scott Brick

The legendary pipes of Scott Brick did little to enhance this biography of the ubiquity of salt. The book is a curate’s egg—there are dull parts but there are also some very interesting parts. I didn't think it possible to have someone talk about salt for 13 hours and 43 minutes but it was.

The book begins with facts about salt and the sharing of some of the salt industry’s 14,000 uses for salt. It was interesting
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, food-drink
I hate to give this a 3/5 I really do. I cannot tell you how many times I picked up and put down this book in stores across the nation.... maybe that should have been my sign.

Don't boo me, but this was dry. There were sections that were legitimately interesting, but there were sections that just needed more editing, they needed to be trimmed down. Also, I dont know how I would personally fix this, but the layout of the book seemed to need changed. It was largely geographically based, so then lar
Richard Derus
Jan 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindled
Real Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up because I'll read more of his work

Author Kurlansky's famous for his microhistory Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, so one knows what is coming when selecting one of his books: Lists, lists, lists; lots of vocabulary lessons and smatterings of cultural anthropology. What better time, I ask in all seriousness, than the Plague Lockdown to learn vital (seriously, salt = life) information in a readable, well-researched book? In the vein of Simo
Jul 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 05, 2008 rated it did not like it
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.
Dec 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 I d
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A quick whirlwind of world history based on salt. I had no idea how salt and salt production had a impact on governments and peoples. This book is filled with many interesting bits of history, and was very enjoyable to read. Some parts of the world are covered more in-depth than others, but well done.
Nov 23, 2008 rated it liked it
450 pages is a lot of salt. Though interesting by the end I was very ready to be done with it.
Daniel Burton
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
For a guy who literally looks like the Dos Equis man, Mark Kurlansky has managed to find some of the least interesting subject matter I could imagine and turn them into full histories. Whether it's salt (this one), cod (1988), oysters (2005), or the Basques (1991)...well, okay. A history of the Basques sounds like it has some potential.

My point is: Kurlansky seems to look around for the driest subjects and then to begin to research the heck out of it. And yes, he really does look like the Dos Eq
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
What I learned:
*Everybody loves salt fish
*Chinese invention stories war with European invention stories - WHO WILL WIN?!
*The planets resources -salt, sugar, oil- inspire ruthlessness in certain types of humans - the urge to Pokémon-collect-them-all is deep seated and endless
*It's a lot easier to see mistakes and bad behavior via birds eye view of history
*Write down the mundane stuff and leave it around for historians to find, otherwise expect to be forgotten once you're gone
*Eccentric behavior
Michael Burnam-Fink
Sep 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, history
Salt is a meandering popular history through that most commonplace of kitchen aids, salt. Since earliest human history, salt has been valued as a key nutrient, preservative, and enhancer of flavor. A ready supply of salt was at the bottom of ancient military strength, as an army marched on salted provisions.

Salt can be gathered off the ground from dry lake beds, mined from subterranean deposits, or gathered in certain ocean marshes. Along sunny shores, evaporation ponds can hasten the process, w
Dec 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Teresa Lukey
Apr 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anybody
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: [+ Poll Ballot] Salt: A World History / Mark Kurlansky. 2.5 stars 1 5 Sep 27, 2020 07:12PM  
Goodreads Librari...: ISBN for ebook edition returns Kindle version 2 24 Nov 15, 2017 10:10PM  
world history 9 57 Jan 19, 2017 12:20AM 1 3 Sep 28, 2016 01:08AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Histories
  • A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
  • The Guns of August
  • King Leopold's Ghost
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
  • The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
  • The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
  • History of the Peloponnesian War
  • SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
  • In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Mark Kurlansky has written, edited, or contributed to twenty books, which have been translated into twenty-five languages and won numerous prizes. His previous books Cod, Salt, 1968, and The Food of a Younger Land were all New York Times best-sellers.

News & Interviews

Juneteenth, observed on June 19th each year, is an American holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in Galveston,...
10 likes · 1 comments
“In every age, people are certain that only the things they have deemed valuable have true value. The search for love and the search for wealth are always the two best stories. But while a love story is timeless, the story of a quest for wealth, given enough time, will always seem like the vain pursuit of a mirage.” 35 likes
“modern people have seen too many chemicals and are ready to go back to eating dirt.” 17 likes
More quotes…