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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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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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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