Sunday, July 6, 2014

SALT: A WORLD HISTORY by Mark Kurlansky (✰✰✰✰)

This was one of those books that ended up on my To-Be-Read list (known as a TBR list in reader parlance) on a complete whim.  More than likely I read an intriguing review of it when my online reading group, Play Book Tag on Shelfari, had “Food” as the monthly tag from which members were to choose a read that month.  I then noticed it available on Overdrive, and it seemed fated.

Ill-fated according to my children, who could not understand why anyone would write a whole dang book about salt in the first place, and moreover, why they had to be subjected to it every time they came into the kitchen, their sister’s room, or a vehicle I happened to be driving.  One night my husband came home from work and the first thing out of our youngest’s mouth was, “Mom is stiiiilll listening to that salt book!”  More than once, however, I did catch my middle son actually paying attention.  I swear I heard him utter a “Huh!” at one point.  The book is a trivia lover’s dream; you will learn something new every time you read or listen, I guarantee it.  Sneaky how I educate my children, no?

In tracing this one element in its many forms, Kurlansky paints a cultural, economic, and political history, seamlessly flowing through chronology and geography from ancient times through the modern era.  One of the things that I loved is that the book is not just Euro-centric; the history is truly global.  Even those events with which the reader is likely quite familiar, such as the American Revolution, will unfold in a totally new fashion when seen from the perspective of these tiny little grains.

Food history is also explored, with the author sharing countless recipes from cookbooks contemporary to the time and place being discussed.  Honestly, food history does not exactly get my intellectual juices jazzed, but the tidbits shared were relevant, entertaining, and brief.

Kurlansky is not the most narrative of nonfiction writers, but he has a gift for story telling, and that takes what could be dry recitation of what is clearly an awesome feat of research and brings it to life.  Narrator Scott Brick’s natural tone and cadence were boring and slow, and I almost abandoned the endeavor but decided to try it at 1.25 speed.  Speeding up the pace of an audio not only picks up the pace (sometimes there is a downside and parts seem to be channelling the Chipmunks--not so with this audio, though), it also imbues a subtle change in the timbre of the reader’s voice.  Both elements worked advantageously in this case, creating a near perfect listening experience.  Although audio is not my favorite format for nonfiction, I absolutely recommend this one.

Surprisingly, I think this book will appeal to a fairly wide audience, whether you choose to read or listen.  Due to excellent editing, fascinating content, and linear structure the book rarely lags.  Lovers of science and history nonfiction will find the tome particularly appealing.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. Funny how your kids reacted to it!