Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

When I see articles about nonfiction readers' advisory or attend a workshop on that topic, I invariably notice a plug for the now considered-classic title Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, published in 2002. Even librarians who mostly tout fiction seem to say they enjoyed it. It has been on my wishlist for years, and I finally borrowed it as an audio download in the final days of 2014. Was it really going to be as good as everyone said?

One positive for the audiobook is that it is read by the very talented Scott Brick. I have listened to numerous books by him. He can put life into a telephone directory. Luckily for Brick and for listeners, Kurlansky has filled his wide-ranging book with history from seemingly every place and period, noting many interesting facts, making intelligent observations, and providing recipes for food items that most people just buy at the store. Can you imagine adding 12 and a half ounces of salt to 25 pounds of sturgeon eggs to make your own caviar? Much of the text is entertaining, and the idea that salt has played a large role in agriculture, industry, commerce, cuisine, diplomacy, and empire-building is fascinating.

Still, I found the book at times more a historical litany than a plot-driven story. I considered dropping out at several points, but then I would be re-engaged by some country, person, or issue in which I have continuing interest.

I am glad to have stuck with Salt: A World History as the final chapters are some of the most engaging, including a section on the Morton Salt company of Chicago. Kurlansky addresses our current salt economy at the end. Another good reason staying the course is seeing that l there is a consistent thread through world history - something that is more than salt but revealed by salt.

I am sure that I will be noticing links to the salt trade in history books and in my travels for years.

Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: A World History. Walker and Company, 2002. 484p. ISBN 0802713734.

Audiobook: 14 compact discs. Phoenix Books, 2006. ISBN 1597770973.

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