Displays broad interests and a wide-ranging intellect, but the style—often bland or dully didactic—could use a bit of...



A chemist constructs a cultural history of sodium chloride and reveals its magnitude in human affairs.

In a volume burdened with a plethora of introductory material (there’s a foreword, preface, acknowledgments, and introduction—and each short chapter begins with an old-fashioned argument, as well), Laszlo makes it plain that salt is no ordinary white powder. (In fact, he reveals, pure salt is colorless.) He begins with a sort of pedagogical manifesto, declaring that all education, like his study, ought to be multidisciplinary, and then moves into some engaging chapters dealing with various uses (and abuses) of salt. Sailors once used it to disinfect wounds. It was one of the earliest means of preserving food. Many ancient trade routes involved the transportation of salt. The word (and concept of) salary has its origins in salt. We learn how seawater is desalinated, how salt was important in the history of Venice, how Gandhi employed it as a powerful symbol to rally his followers; we learn why the sea is salty (a puzzle: after all, only fresh water flows into it), why salt will clear a wine spill on a tablecloth, why salty foods make you thirsty, why salt will dispatch a slug and will both freeze ice cream and thaw an icy highway. Toward the end, he even waxes metaphysical. Although the volume for the most part is highly readable, Laszlo occasionally allows his erudition to obfuscate, as in one sentence that includes all the following: “mitochondrial RNA sequences,” “lipid bilayer,” “glycerol,” “ether bonds,” “RNA-polymerases,” “prokaryotes,” and “eukaryotes.” Yet he can also decline into the lowest puns—e.g., he follows a comment about Morton’s attempts to prevent the problem of the hardening of salt with this: “It being salt, they licked it.” Readers may also find annoying the editorial decision to permit the translator’s numerous notes to appear in the text instead of in unobtrusive footnotes.

Displays broad interests and a wide-ranging intellect, but the style—often bland or dully didactic—could use a bit of seasoning.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-231-12198-9

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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...


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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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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