Enlightening and delighting as he goes, Kurlansky is, like Jane Grigson before him, a peerless food historian.

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SALT

A WORLD HISTORY

A lively social history that does for salt what Kurlansky previously did for Cod (1997).

Perhaps the author slightly oversells his subject by claiming it is far more important and interesting than the evolution of language or the harnessing of fire. But maybe he has a point: Without salt, Kurlansky states at the outset, there would be no life, let alone a nifty preservative for everything from herring to mummies. Salt keeps the muscles pumping, the blood flowing, the brain firing. Its importance has trailed endless strife. Salt enters written history (as so many things do) with the Chinese, who had the first known salt works, imposed the first known salt tax, and fought the first known salt war. They also used it to preserve the wondrous 1,000-year-old egg, which “takes about 100 days to make, and will keep for another 100 days”—give or take, evidently, 365,000 days. From there Kurlansky follows salt through its deployment by the Egyptians on to the Basques, who salted the cod that they chased all the way to North America a thousand years ago, and on through essentially all of history. In salt, politics and food mix continually, if uncomfortably. The Incans, Aztecs, and Mayans rose to power partly on the back of salt; control of it made and unmade royal houses in Europe and the Far East. There developed a whole semiotics of salt, and Kurlansky deconstructs it. A couple of curious errors, such as attributing the famous comment “Kill them all. God knows his own” to “an Albigensian leader” rather than to the Albigensian-slaughtering Pope Innocent III, are piddling in relation to the study’s encyclopedic brilliance. Numerous old salt-specializing recipes are included.

Enlightening and delighting as he goes, Kurlansky is, like Jane Grigson before him, a peerless food historian.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8027-1373-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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