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The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  4,251 ratings  ·  405 reviews
From Mark Kurlansky, the bestselling author of Cod, Salt, and Birdseye—the illuminating story of an ancient and enigmatic people.

Straddling a small corner of Spain and France in a land that is marked on no maps except their own, the Basques are a puzzling contradiction—they are Europe's oldest nation without ever having been a country. No one has ever been able to determin
Paperback, 400 pages
Published February 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published October 1st 1999)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Looking back on reading this one I'm most fascinated by the fact that the author, while slightly in awe of the legend of the Basque people, is in no way afraid to show the ugly sides to their history as well. I think most people who are interested regard the Basques as the eternal heroic outsiders. But this book doesn't shy away from showing how often and how easily racism and anti-semitism can arise in areas of strong nationalist identity.

"The Basques share with the Celts the privilege of indu
Jun 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, research, history
I wanted to like this better, but one key missing element kept nagging at me the entire time I was reading: where are the women? You'd think that the deciding factor in defining Basque culture is having a penis. Seriously, there are a couple of asides about the role women have played in preserving Basque culture, but nothing of substance. Deeply disappointing. That said, I did learn a lot from this book about the history and language of Euskadi, and hope to learn more in the future. ...more
Nov 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people very curious about the basque, mark kurlansky's mom
Shelves: read-in-2007
mark kurlanksy has a real gift for taking a potentially great subject & running it into the ground with his painful writing style. he's a classic pop historian, more interested in writing about himself & what a totally awesome dude he is than the subject his book is supposed to be addressing...or he writes about his perceived self-awesomeness through the prism & drama provided by his subject. but unlike some other authors who certainly inject plenty of their own personalities into books that are ...more
Richard Derus
Dec 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Rating: 3.6* of five

History is the beautiful, brightly lit foam on top of the annihilating tsunami of the unrecorded past. History books are the spectrographic analysis of the light glinting off that foam. Any attempt at making a book more than that is doomed to failure and tedium.

This is not a tedious or failed book. It's just...well...curiously insubstantial. I don't like the focus on the Great and the Good in place of the gestalt of the actions of the Basques. I know, I know, most people can'
Dec 04, 2010 rated it did not like it
Rarely do I not finish a book and Kurlansky's Basque History of the World falls into that less-than-stellar category.

I know nothing about Basque history and I thought that this would be a good introduction. Instead, I found it very disjointed and schizophrenic. I've heard good things about Kurlansky, so this book was an even bigger disappointment. I read 100 pages and remember almost nothing, which is very out of the ordinary for me and I'm going to go ahead and blame it on the format and writin
I've given up on rating this book because I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. The Basque History of the World will serve those who want an introduction to Basque Culture well. It covers both Basque History and the Basque perspective and participation in World History. It is written with the best intentions, too, and this is easy to tell from Kurlansky's unprejudiced narration of a history that is hotly contested and told with too many biases by both Basques and Spaniards.

My first issue is t
Mar 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
3.5 Star.

An objective, comprehensive yet simplified history of Basque from its beginning to the end of the 20th century. I enjoy the easy, conversational narrative style the author writes in. Furthermore, I feel like the author doesn’t try to gloss over or make up excuses for some of the horrific acts perpetrated by the militant ETA, who attempted to gain a Basque independence through violence, despite indicating his strong sympathy toward the ultimate goals of the Basque people.

However, I also
Like Korea, Basqueland lies in territory claimed by two countries, France and Spain instead of Japan and China. Before France and Spain were nations the Basque were in play. The French mostly ignored the Basque. After the Muslims and Jews were chased out of Spain around 1492 the Spanish were casting about for a cultural identity. I'm weak on Spanish history, don't know when Spain became a naval sea power. Basque shipbuilders probably built most of the Spanish ships which propelled Spanish explor ...more
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wine-and-food, basque
one of my favorite books i have read many times, you can dip in and out wherever and just as satisfying sampling as reading cover to cover. kurlansky has a penchant for writing about history from one point and letting all of humankind swirl around that point in time and space. he did it with cod fish, with salt, with santo Domingo baseball, and with basques. it's such a wonderful country, in history, people, languages, food, beaches and mountains, dancing music art on and on that this serves wel ...more
Elizabeth Theiss
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Anything by Kurlansky is rich and beautifully written. His book about the Basques is especially memorable for its historical and cultural perspectives. Kurlansky is not only a good storyteller; he is also a fine researcher who provides evidence to document his finely woven histories. Having spent time in Basque country, his work helped me to appreciate the people and gave me a sense of place.
Jack Horan
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lovely historical survey of the Basque people and their culture. Feel I understand a bit better what sets these people apart from every other group in Europe. Don't fuck with the Basques basically. ...more
Bob Newman
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, iberia
An Enjoyable Grab-bag of Events, Recipes and Trivia

In my search for a better understanding of the Basques, their place in European history and the reasons for the continuing conflict in their region today, I picked up Mark Kurlansky's book. THE BASQUE HISTORY OF THE WORLD is extremely well-written in modern journalistic style. That is, nothing is pursued to the bitter end, certainly, nor, sometimes, is it pursued to a logical conclusion. Subjects are touched upon, suddenly turned into something
April Hamilton
Mar 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book about a mysterious people. The ancestral Basque homelands lie on the border between France and Spain, encompassing a bit of each country's territory.

While the Basque are officially considered citizens of Spain, they consider themselves a separate group entirely. They are a mysterious group because anthropologists can't say exactly where they, or their native language, came from, only that both their physical traits and language have little in common with either the Fr
May 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book randomly at a book store near where I lived in Crouch End, London, back in 2001. I knew nothing of the Basques other than what I saw on Euro News (mostly ETA terrorism). The writer presents an interesting and lively story of a people whose language is unrelated to any other in the world (and as a linguist, I loved this!) and an insight into their rich culture, which predates many others. I enjoyed getting to know the Basques away from all the bad press, and later on, as a grad ...more
Feb 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Kurlansky's on his game with this one. "Cod" led him to the Basques, it was an obvious segue as the Basques had a jump on everyone else in this area (fished off Newfoundland Banks long before Columbus, etc.) Anyway, I enjoyed the book thoroughly, but I recall very little of it now, 8 years later. The Basque were/are a fascinating people, with their own language, culture, food, separate from Spain & France, but...well, wish I could remember more... ...more
Pep Bonet
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: assaig
I bought this book in 2011 in the Basque Center in Boise, ID. And this is mostly the reason why I bought it. It gave it some respectability. Being published by Penguin was the second factor which decided me: it tends to be some kind of guarantee. The third factor is more stupid. On the cover it says: by the author of SALT and COD. Good, I told me, if the author has already written about salted cod (staple food of the Basques and other Atlantic communities), he must really know. Only later I disc ...more
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First choice of the Kurlansky's I'd like to re-read.


A comprehensive view of all things Basque, from the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997). The Basque History of the World is an honorable title, alerting readers to its singularly Basque-centric mix of cultural studies, history, and politics. The writing is direct and accessible, although limited by the occasional descriptive clichÇ (—jagged mountains” and “crisp fall days—). It’s most interesting w
Mónica Ruiz
I absolutely love this book. I read it for the first time 5 or 6 years ago and I've re-read some parts of it since then.

As a Basque myself, I see two aspects of this book that make it special:
First and foremost, the fact that is written by an outsider, with no conection with our people or ways whatsoever. It's simply beautiful to see that some foreigner can overcome the Media, the prejudices and the public image that is projected of our people and see things for what they are. This makes some p
This is classic Kurlansky, with both the good and the bad. The good is that it's highly readable and at times entertaining, perfect for a popular audience. The bad is that he spends a bit too much time "exoticizing" Basque people, making them seem somehow inherently different than any other group in the world. Of course, all groups of people are different, and Basque origins are shrouded in mystery--we don't even know what language family the Basque language belongs in, but Kurlansky's approach ...more
Sep 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Why did the Basques, a tiny group of fewer than three million people, survive as a culture? This is implicitly the main question asked by Kurlansky's history of the Basques. (Incidentally, this is not really a Basque history of the world as much as it is a history of the Basque world -- though since the Basques got around a lot as sailors and whalers, it's a good-sized world). Here's what I take to be the author's answers to that question:
1) Because they were relatively geographically isolated i
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The book is about one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world - the Basques.

The book discusses Basque language, cooking (including some recipes), culture, historically significant people, graffiti (3+4=1), sports (pelota), internal conflicts among the Basques themselves, the Spanish Civil War (the German bombing of Guernica), art, WWII, religion (Catholic versus secularism) and current issues. I didn't realize the Spanish government was so dictorial towards this culture.

The author is supp
Michael Armijo
Nov 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
An interesting, historical look into Northern SPAIN.

I was very interested in the Basque country after I learned that my family (ARMIJO) can be traced as early as the 13th Century to Laredo, Spain, a small resort beach town in the heart of Basque land. I learned a lot & reflected on a few customs that have been carried over in my family...for example, love of sardines & pride in my Spanish heritage. This was quite interesting to learn about the long history of the Basque people. It's amazing to r
Xander Ring
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book explains a lot. We live in an area of France that is either within or on the edge of the French Basque country (depending upon who you ask). The book explains the roadblocks and car searches that we have encountered while crossing the Pyrenees into Spain. I remember the first time we drove to Bilbao. It it a dense urban area with large factories and huge rusting steel plants. And I had this romantic idea that the Pays Basque was a land of small farmers, goat herders and cheese artisans ...more
Mar 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
While perhaps not the most well written book (and I do not purport to know how accurate his fact telling is), this book was immensely interesting to me. I'm visiting Basque country this summer and I found myself furiously taking notes about certain aspects of Basque culture. It was a great primer for me, someone who came into the book with very limited knowledge of the Basque people.

My interest in linguistics also predisposed me to totally eating up the sections about the Basque language, Eusker
Martin Hare Michno
Jun 04, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Mark Kurlansky will not shut up about food recipes and I could not finish this book. He comes close to mythologising the Basques, and claims that the more mysterious something is, the more Basque it is. The way he writes history is terribly bland, and frankly makes it impossible to follow. He attempts to take on more information than he can handle, and mostly writes about boring, uninteresting and superfluous events. I'll try to read the last part, which deals with recent history.

As far as I'm c
Oct 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
Overall, it was very poorly written. Some interesting history but did not flow well chronologically. Additionally, the information has a lot to do with locations and they were not described well at all. It was difficult to know where the narrative was taking place as the author jumped from one location to another and did not give enough dialog to this important aspect. There were not enough clear inclusive maps. Author described the food (including recipes) better than the all important location ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A rich depth of information, I like the way this book is written. It is a pleasure that I did my placement in such a different place with unique people. Recognising places I visited throughout the year in the book was fun and understanding the vast history of the Basques and their language has made me appreciate the Basque Country even more. Eskerrik asko Mark Kurlansky 👏🏼
Sophie (RedheadReading)
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great introduction to Basque culture and history! I felt the editing of this could be better though; the author would go from discussing intense political developments in the Franco regime, then do a chapter on eating eels, then back to politics, which I found a little jarring!
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
You should clearly realize that the author thoroughly explores local cuisine (as far as providing recipees and ingridients) as narration unfolds. Might become confusing for pure history enthusiasts.
Nick Light
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Best treatment of Basque history out there. Mark Kurlansky's style is journalistic, easy to read and vivid. ...more
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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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