Saturday, April 6, 2013
Salt: A World History
You know, it's really frustrating when the internet decides not to work pretty much all week. Especially when I'm knocked out with a terrible cold and don't feel well enough to do much. Oh well. At least I finally got a chance to sit down and finish Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. It took me a long time to read this 450 page book, though it was fascinating and always held my interest. I guess one can only read so much about salt in one sitting, no matter how engrossing.
I've discovered that my favorite type of nonfiction is about food. I may have said this before, can't remember. But anyway. I had been intending to read this book about salt pretty much since it was published. Actually, that's a lie, because it was published in 2002, which was around the time that I wouldn't even look at a nonfiction book. I think I discovered this book about four years ago, though being in college at the time deterred me from picking up any extra reading. To make a long story short, I came across it earlier this year on the shelf at my library and decided to check it out. I believe I had to return it once, but I checked it out again and finally cracked it open. I'm quite glad I did.
You'd think the history of salt would be pretty mundane. But no. Salt was crucial to preserving food for so long that it became a central part of civilizations and wars. The Chinese were mining/making salt long before the rest of the world. Though, didn't they do almost everything before the rest of the world? The Chinese are a fascinating culture, not least because they've lasted for so long. But I digress.
This book takes you on a journey from sea to underground mine and back again. You see, there are two basic kinds of salt, sea salt and rock salt. Of course, from those two basic kinds you get many types. I sort of wish Kurlansky had included a master list of all types of salt from the various saltmaking regions of the world, but that's just me; I'm a list fanatic. The fact remains that people fought wars over salt, various salted fish, and the best salt-producing locations. You see, as recently as two hundred years ago, salting was one of the foremost methods of preserving food, whether by pickling or by packing in barrels of salt. It was absolutely necessary.
Kurlansky does a wonderful job of telling the history of the world through the eyes of salt. He doesn't have a great organizing system in regards to his writing, though. Yes, each chapter trots through history in a chronological manner, but he repeated himself a lot and jumped from culture to culture rather quickly. But aside from that, this book is fantastic and will give you a brand new appreciation for the only rock we eat. Four stars, and I hope to read his other books, which include Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World and The Basque History of the World.