Salt : a world history

by Mark Kurlansky

Paper Book, 2003




New York : Penguin Books, 2003.


Explores the role of salt in shaping history, discussing how one of the world's most sought-after commodities has influenced economics, science, politics, religion, and eating customs.

Media reviews

Who would have thought that musings on an edible rock could run to 450 breathless pages? Let me hasten to add that Salt turns out to be far from boring. With infectious enthusiasm, Kurlansky leads the reader on a 5,000-year sodium chloride odyssey through China, India, Egypt, Japan, Morocco, Israel, Africa, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, England, Scandinavia, France and the US, highlighting the multifarious ways in which this unassuming chemical compound has profoundly influenced people's lives.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lukespapa
Who knew that a history of salt could be so interesting? Tons of facts weaved in a narrative style that is easy to "digest". Along the way, the reader picks up plenty of interesting "general" historical details. Want to know why some caviar is so much more expensive than others? Did you know that drilling for oil was an accidental byproduct of looking for salt? Hopefully, that is enough to whet your "appetite" for this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member melydia
A (really, really long) history of the world's most ubiquitous seasoning. A lot of it was really interesting, particularly the varied methods of salt production and the politics involved. However, there is also a whole lot about salting fish, making cheese, and pickling vegetables. Especially fish. So much fish. So it's worth reading, for the most part, but you might want to skim the recipes.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookishbunny
Who would have thought that such a cheap, everyday substance (in my hometown, at least) would be a doorway to a great history lesson.
LibraryThing member varielle
I took this book along on an airplane flight thinking it would put me to sleep, but I couldn't put it down. I had not realized how critical salt has been in the history of the world. From the development of communities based on its proximity to military decisions made on its availability to the cause of Indian independence from Britain to everyone's kitchen table, salt is ubiquitous. Although perhaps not to everyone's taste (pun intended), those who are curious about the oddities of history and how the world is tied together will find it a good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member kshroyer
I imagine Kurlansky did an insane amount of research for this book but unfortunately, I found it very dry and very boring. My strategy as I got deeper into the book was to stop reading the recipes because they were pretty much all the same. The latter 1/4 of the book was more interesting but not enough to make the book a worthwhile read. If you want to read about every single saltwork that has ever existed, this is the book for you. But I wouldn't so much call this a history of salt as I would a history of every time someone used salt to cure fish (which is a lot of times).… (more)
LibraryThing member kaitanya64
This was..meh...okay. I felt like it was much more about food than I was hoping. There are brief references to how salt fits into the bigger picture but I felt like the author either avoided or didn't recognize the many places where this could have been connected to larger historical events in a deeper, more interesting way. I feel like this just is not what I am looking for in popular history, more like loosely connected anecdotes than analysis.… (more)
LibraryThing member nog
More than you'll ever need to know on the subject. Really bogs down after a few chapters.
LibraryThing member boeflak
A whole book about salt? Who woulda thunk that a simple molecule made up of two elements - one of them explosive, the other toxic - could have a story large enough for a book? Kurlansky's tale is worthy of every page. Fascinating enough that you will bore your housemates to tears reading excerpts from it. Seasoning soup will never seem the same.… (more)
LibraryThing member bianca.sayan
Holy crap. Mark Kurlansky should just rewrite the history curriculum for pretty much every school system out there; he would fix everything. This book is amazing: filled with the most interesting stories and facts and yet terribly fun to read. I don't think I've ever been so excited reading a history book. Must Read!
LibraryThing member DanStratton
I have read many different histories, but this one really had me fascinated. This is a history of the world from the perspective of salt. Kurlansky is obviously very interested in the mineral and how it has effected the development of civilizations. He traces how man's need for salt has effected the development of inventions, sparked the rise and fall of nations, inspired wars, prospered trade, spurred on pirates and finally falling in status to a commodity that belies its heritage. It is at times hard to believe the effect those tiny white crystals we know today have had on the world.

Kurlansky spices up the text with ancient recipes, drawn from some of the earliest cookbooks. They are a hoot to read. I doubt I would try a single one, but it is interesting to see how recipes developed over the centuries. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in world history. It covers all the same events the typical history book does, but from a perspective no one has tried before.
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LibraryThing member librisissimo
Substance: Lots of details about how the salt trade (production distribution, and taxation) impacted cultures and countries around the world in every historical era.
The main lesson is that if governments don't have some effective opposition, they will tax any necessity, monopolize its production distribution, and generally cause havoc among their people, including penury and death.
(If it's not salt, it will be something else, although the author doesn't go there.)
Full of fascinating facts and anecdotes.
Style: Not overly-scholarly, although well-sourced. Casual narrative but not trendy.
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LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
A fascinating study of salt throughout human history. I really appreciate that Kurlansky did not forget about the non-Western world in writing about this book (although there is rather more about American salt practices than most other countries--unsurprising, given Kurlansky's language, previous books, and nationality). My only criticism of this book is that it has a tendency toward anecdotes rather than data, especially toward the end. There are no sum-ups or final conclusions drawn in the last few chapters, just a tossed salad of all the random tidbits the author hadn't managed to fit in elsewhere.

Still, incredible stuff! Even reading just a few pages of this book will give you material for days' worth of small talk.
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LibraryThing member nancenwv
I found it very interesting to read about salt being so interwoven with human history and culture. However this is less of a narrative than a huge amount of facts poured together. I seldom do not finish a book but this is going to be one of them.
LibraryThing member dele2451
As unlikely as it sounds, this book about common salt is truly fascinating. Kurlansky tracks the progress (and transgressions) of humans and civilizations as they discover the amazing powers of salt. Empires rise and fall, inventions abound, daily diets and world economies are all dramatically transformed and it's all because of an inexpensive substance most of us take for granted. I found "Salt" to be a very tasty educational epic consisting of a little basic chemistry, some fundamental geology, a hint of art, a good dose of engineering, some light humor, a smidgeon of cooking and a generous portion of world history. I doubt anyone who reads this book will ever look at their salt shaker the same way again. Definitely worth the read.… (more)
LibraryThing member lalagee
this book is best used as a sleep aid
LibraryThing member ex_ottoyuhr
Never trust the historical analysis of anyone who loves talking about the Basques and Bretons, but thinks that the Thirty Years' War consisted of "fifty years of sporadic fighting." How one can reach the point of writing history books without knowing about the Peace of Westphalia escapes me. (Note, I do not actually _own_ this book, I recycled it to put the paper to good use, but I used to own it at one time.)… (more)
LibraryThing member jlparent
I thought "Cod" was better-written, this felt pretty much like trivia nuggets thrown at me. Cod felt more seamless, like a narrative. Still, it was interesting and I'll likely read more by this author.
LibraryThing member pbirch01
After reading Cod by Kurlansky I was pretty excited to read this book thinking that it would be a similar style of story. In fact, it was pretty much a rehash of Cod with more details added in. Chronicling the history of salt through many different cultures and ethnicities is interesting but only to a certain point. One can only read so many times about the effect of salt on that particular culture before it starts to get really repetitive. I really struggled to finish this book and would suggest Cod as an alternative book that has much of the same information.… (more)
LibraryThing member mykl-s
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (2003)
LibraryThing member dreamreader
A fascinating history of salt, from its origins as a form of currency in ancient Rome (thus the word 'salary') to the many techniques of harvesting and varieties of salt on our planet. Kurlansky turns this basic chemical element into a saga of both historical and culinary delight.
LibraryThing member Awfki
Very interesting book. I had no idea that salt had played such a large role in history.
LibraryThing member mana_tominaga
An amazing overview of world history which explores the centrality of salt.
LibraryThing member Tocar
Defiantly a worthwhile read. After reading I've become more interested in making my own sauerkraut. The latter couple of chapter are more fragmented as they cover more the industrialization of the production of salt without touching on any other aspect of it's modern usage.
LibraryThing member SaraPrindiville
Very interesting! A good way to learn history- following a particular subject. Salt has really played a major role throughout the world and history. Lots of taxation, lots of different kinds of salt and lots of different uses and evolution of uses. There are huge amounts of salt on this planet!
LibraryThing member Meijhen
Although I always knew that salt was the basis of a lot of different world events and a primary driver in the development of civilization and economy, I never realized how all-encompassing it was. The author has also managed to make what could have been an amazingly dry and difficult subject quite easy to digest. The writing style is light, with a bit of humour thrown in. I was able to read this at night before going to bed without it putting me sleep immediately....and it was interesting enough that I picked it back up to read over breakfast the following morning.… (more)



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