Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Book Review: "Salt: A World History"

Salt: A World History is the first Mark Kurlansky book I've read, although I was assured by several people who saw me reading this one that his Cod is also an interesting history. In Salt, Kurlansky traces the story of humanity's uses for the title compound through the centuries, detailing the various ways it's been harvested, commodified, and used in different cultures (and cuisines).

While an interesting light "armchair history," the book tends to skip about, and after a while proved slightly repetitive. The loose style, sometimes chronological and sometimes (vaguely) thematic, enhanced the repetitiveness. Nonetheless, the material was fascinating, and the number of connections that Kurlansky was able to make between the salt industry and other emerging products was quite impressive.

Aside from narrative history Kurlansky spices Salt with recipes and quotations from historical and contemporary sources - these at times are useful, but at other points seem to disturb the flow. That's not to mention the fact that more than a few of the recipes are downright stomach-turning (making me thankful there were no accompanying photographs).

While it has stylistic flaws, and is marred by its lack of citations (though there is a reasonably extensive bibliography), I did enjoy this book.