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Salt: A World History

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  55,497 ratings  ·  3,466 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 substan
Paperback, 484 pages
Published January 28th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published January 31st 2002)
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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)

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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
May 17, 2015 rated it did not like it
I read several chapters of this. It was mind-numbingly boring. Lists, lists, lists of everything that has ever been done with salt. What different countries, cultures and times have done with salt. The word salt in many different languages. That old thing about salary being the precious salt that the Romans paid their military in, right. I was praying for a relief from the tedium of this book. But all I got was the odd not-at-all interesting anecdote. I don't know how the rest of the book progre ...more
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.
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 (Again)
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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...
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
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
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book does exactly what it says: examines salt around the world in historical context. I have learned quite a bit about the taxation of salt invented in imperial China, and abolished as people’s dissatisfaction resulted in revolts; then invariably reinstated by the new regime as they needed money. Venice gained Mediterranian supremacy largely based on controlling the salt trade, and lost it when trade shifted to the Atlantic and cheaper British salt became available. Ghandi in India made the ...more
Jul 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Lots of really interesting information, but so, so, so dry. So many recipes... I don't really need to know all the different ways people first created fish sauce, maybe just tell me the important ones. Might try this one in audiobook form at a different time.
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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.

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