Salt: A World History

Author: Mark Kurlansky
Year: 2002
Genre: History

I'm not sure what to say about this book. Does salt, as a basic need of human societies past the hunter-gatherer stage, open the door to a uniquely global world history? Kurlansky does connect it to historical figures from Marco Polo to Humphry Davy to Gandhi. Also, as salt is so intimately connected to the home life of ordinary people, there are recipes and other social-historical morsels that provide a sense of common humanity across times and places; after all, how different can "they" be from "us" if everyone makes pickles?

On the other hand, the book as a whole seems somewhat trivial and forgettable. Kurlansky suffers from the same popular-history syndrome as some of the other history books I've reviewed here: it reads like a list of random facts without much narrative force or broader significance. "Salt" is too small a topic, and "world history" too large, for the book to make much of a statement about anything.

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