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

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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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