14 October 2008

Review: Salt, by Mark Kurlansky

Next time someone tells you to eat rocks, reach for the salt shaker. Yes, salt is a rock! Mark Kurlansky takes readers on a voyage of discovery into the economic, political, religious, and culinary world of salt--from antiquity to our own times.

The introduction discusses all the ways in which salt has been used for preservation. And many of these uses go far beyond making pickles. In the Hebrew Bible, salt is a symbol of binding covenants and contracts (preserving the agreement); in some cultures, salt is used in the marriage ceremony (preserving the bond); and throughout the world, salt has been used to protect babies (preserving life).

Kurlansky takes us around the world and through time so we can learn how the search for and control of salt led to new technologies, shaped governments, started rebellions, and brought diverse peoples into contact (sometimes peacefully and sometimes not). Along the way, we see how fish, cheese, ham, pickles, olives, bread, and much more rely on the preserving powers of salt. Kurlansky shares ancient recipes and introduces us to some of the modern people behind the labels of contemporary food staples (Morton salt, Tabasco sauce).

The book also takes us away from the table to give us a glimpse into non-culinary uses of salt. For example, different salts are used for gunpowder, bleach, and deicing our roads.

This is the second book by Kurlansky I've read. I loved his book Cod and had trouble putting it down. Salt didn't quite live up to my expectations. It was interesting, and I learned a lot about the importance of salt in human affairs. I think the problem is that salt turns out to be such an incredibly broad subject that it is difficult to organize a discussion of its many aspects. And to delve into any one of those requires a bit of background information. Kurlansky does an admirable job of condensing such information; however, I think the complexity of the subject matter got in the way at times.

I recommend this book with some reservations, and I urge you to pick up one of Kurlansky's other books instead. I thought Cod was amazing. Several people have told me that Salt is their least favorite Kurlansky book. I want to stress that least favorite does not mean "bad" or "don't read"; it just means, read his other books first.

I borrowed this book from OverDrive, a digital download service from the library. It was read by Scott Brick, one of my all-time favorite readers. He did a nice job here, and to my untrained ears, his pronunciations of the scattering of non-English words were spot on.

This book was part of Historia's Books about Food Challenge. I have a summary post on her blog (here).

Audiobook published by Phoenix Books (2006)
ISBN-13: 9781597770972
Challenge: Books about Food
Rating: B-


Shelley 10/14/08, 9:00 AM  

A book about salt sounds more interesting than a book about cod, but I'll take your word for it!

Anonymous,  10/15/08, 11:16 AM  

Thanks for visiting my blog! It would be amazing if you would do a post about Guernsey along with a review of the book!

Just Mom 10/22/08, 8:33 PM  

My DD loved Salt - I don't know if she even knows the others exist...now I have a good gift idea - it might even surprise her!

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