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Extrait

Once I stood on the bank of a rice paddy in rural Sichuan Province, and a lean and aging Chinese peasant, wearing a faded forty-year-old blue jacket issued by the Mao government in the early years of the Revolution, stood knee deep in water and apropos of absolutely nothing shouted defiantly at me, "We Chinese invented many things!"

The Chinese are proud of their inventions. All Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong, sooner or later give a speech listing the many Chinese firsts. Though rural China these days seems in need of a new round of inventions, it is irrefutably true that the Chinese originated many of the pivotal creations of history, including papermaking, printing, gunpowder, and the compass.

China is the oldest literate society still in existence, and its 4,000 years of written history begin as a history of inventions. It is no longer clear when legends were made into men and when living historic figures were turned into legends. Chinese history starts in the same manner as Old Testament history. In the Book of Genesis, first come the legends, the story of the Creation, mythical figures such as Adam and Eve and Noah, generations of people who may or may not have lived, and gradually the generations are followed to Abraham, the beginning of documented Hebrew history.

In Chinese history, first was Pangu, the creator, who made humans from parasites on his body. He died but was followed by wise rulers, who invented the things that made China the first civilization.Fuxi was first to domesticate animals. Apparently an enthusiast for domesticity, he is also credited with inventing marriage. Next came Shennong, who invented medicine, agriculture, and trade. He is credited with the plow and the hoe. Then came Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, who invented writing, the bow and arrow, the cart, and ceramics. Several centuries after Huangdi came Emperor Yao, a wise ruler who passed over his unqualified son and named a modest sage, Shun, his successor. Shun chose his minister, Yu, to succeed him. In 2205 B.C., according to tradition, Yu founded the Xia dynasty, and this dynasty, which lasted until 1766 B.C., enters into documented history.



Chinese salt history begins with the mythical Huangdi, who invented writing, weaponry, and transportation. According to the legends, he also had the distinction of presiding over the first war ever fought over salt.

One of the earliest verifiable saltworks in prehistoric China was in the northern province of Shanxi. In this arid region of dry yellow earth and desert mountains is a lake of salty water, Lake Yuncheng. This area was known for constant warfare, and all of the wars were over control of the lake. Chinese historians are certain that by 6000 B.C., each year, when the lake's waters evaporated in the summer sun, people harvested the square crystals on the surface of the water, a system the Chinese referred to as "dragging and gathering." Human bones found around the lake have been dated much earlier, and some historians speculate that these inhabitants may also have gathered salt from the lake.

The earliest written record of salt production in China dates to around 800 B.C. and tells of production and trade of sea salt a millennium before, during the Xia dynasty. It is not known if the techniques described in this account were actually used during the Xia dynasty, but they were considered old ways by the time of this account, which describes putting ocean water in clay vessels and boiling it until reduced to pots of salt crystals. This was the technique that was spread through southern Europe by the Roman Empire, 1,000 years after the Chinese account was written.

About 1000 B.C., iron first came into use in China, though the first evidence of it being used in salt making is not until 450 B.C. by a man named Yi Dun. According to a passage written in 129 B.C., "Yi Dun rose to prominence by producing salt in pans." Yi Dun is believed to have made salt by boiling brine in iron pans, an innovation which would become one of the leading techniques for salt making for the next 2,000 years. The legend says that he worked with an ironmaster named Guo Zong and was also friendly with an enterprising wealthy bureaucrat named Fan Li. Fan Li is credited with inventing fish farming, which for centuries after was associated with salt-producing areas. The Chinese, like later Europeans, saw that salt and fish were partners. Many Chinese, including Mencius, the famous Confucian thinker who lived from 372 to 289 B.C., were said to have worked selling both fish and salt.



Throughout the long history of China, sprinkling salt directly on food has been a rarity. Usually it has been added during cooking by means of various condiments—salt-based sauces and pastes. The usual explanation is that salt was expensive and it was stretched by these condiments. A recurring idea throughout the ancient world from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia, fish fermented in salt was one of the most popular salt condiments in ancient China. It was called jiang. But in China soybeans were added to ferment with the fish, and in time the fish was dropped altogether from the recipe and jiang became jiangyou, or, as it is called in the West, soy sauce.

Soy is a legume that produces beans, two or three in a two-inch-long furry pod. The beans can be yellow, green, brown, purple, black, or spotted, and Chinese cooking makes a great distinction among these varieties. Jiangyou is made from yellow beans, but other types are also fermented with salt to produce different pastes and condiments. In China, the earliest written mention of soy is in the sixth century B.C., describing the plant as a 700-year-old crop from the north. Soy was brought to Japan from China in the sixth century A.D. by Chinese Buddhist missionaries. Both the religion and the bean were successfully implanted. But the Japanese did not make soy sauce until the tenth century. Once they did learn, they called it shoyu and industrialized it and sold it around the world.

Though jiangyou and shoyu are pronounced very differently and appear to be very different words in Western writing, the two words are written with the same character in Japanese and Chinese. Mao's 1950s literacy campaign simplified the language to some 40,000 characters, but a pre-Mao character for the soy plant, su, depicts little roots at the bottom which revive the soil. Soy puts nutrients back into the soil and can restore fields that have been exhausted by other crops. The bean is so nutritious that a person could be sustained for a considerable period on nothing but water, soy, and salt.



The process by which the Chinese, and later the Japanese, fermented beans in earthen pots is today known as lactic acid fermentation, or, in more common jargon, pickling. Optimum lactic fermentation takes place between sixty-four and seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit, which in most of the world is an easily achieved environment.

As vegetables begin to rot, the sugars break down and produce lactic acid, which serves as a preservative. Theoretically, pickling can be accomplished without salt, but the carbohydrates and proteins in the vegetables tend to putrefy too quickly to be saved by the emerging lactic acid. Without salt, yeast forms, and the fermentation process leads to alcohol rather than pickles.

Between .8 and 1.5 percent of the vegetable's weight in salt holds off the rotting process until the lactic acid can take over. Excluding oxygen, either by sealing the jar or, more usually, by weighting the vegetables so that they remain immersed in liquid, is necessary for successful lactic fermentation.

The ancient Chinese pickled in earthen jars, which caused a white film called kahm yeast, harmless but unpleasant tasting, to form on the top. Every two weeks the cloth, board, and stone weighting the vegetables had to be washed or even boiled to remove the film. This added work is why pickling in earthen jars has not remained popular.

In Sichuan, pickled vegetables are still a staple. They are served with rice, which is never salted. The salty vegetables contrast pleasantly with the blandness of the warm but unseasoned rice gruel that is a common breakfast food. In effect, the pickles are salting the rice.

South of the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, lies Zigong, a hilly provincial salt town that grew into a city because of its preponderance of brine wells. The crowded, narrow, downhill open-air market in the center of town continues to sell salt and special pickling jars for the two local specialties, paocai and zhacai. A woman at the market who sold the glass pickling jars offered this recipe for paocai:


Fill the jar two-thirds with brine. Add whatever vegetables you like and whatever spice you like, cover, and the vegetables are ready in two days.


The spices added are usually hot red Sichuan peppers or ginger, a perennial herb of Indian origin, known to the Chinese since ancient times. The red pepper, today a central ingredient of Sichuan cooking, did not arrive until the sixteenth century, carried to Europe by Columbus, to India by the Portuguese, and to China by either the Indians, Portuguese, Andalusians, or Basques.

Paocai that is eaten in two days is obviously more about flavor than preserving. After two days the vegetables are still very crisp, and the salt maintains, even brightens, the color. Zhacai is made with salt instead of brine, alternating layers of vegetables with layers of salt crystals. In time a brine is formed from the juices the salt pulls out of the vegetables. When a peasant has a baby girl, the family puts up a vegetable every year and gives the jars to her when she's married. This shows how long zhacai is kept before eating. The original medieval idea was to marry her after twelve or fifteen jars. Today it usually takes a few more vegetables.

The Chinese also solved the delicate problem of transporting eggs by preserving them in salt. They soaked the eggs, and still do, in brine for more than a month, or they soak them for a shorter time and encase them in salted mud and straw. The resulting egg, of a hard-boiled consistency with a bright orange yolk, will neither break nor spoil if properly handled. A more complicated technique, involving salt, ash, lye, and tea, produces the "1,000-year-old egg." Typical of the Chinese love of poetic hyperbole, 1,000-year-old eggs take about 100 days to make, and will keep for another 100 days, though the yolk is then a bit green and the smell is strong.



In 250 B.C., the time of the Punic Wars in the Mediterranean, the governor of Shu, today the province of Sichuan, was a man named Li Bing. The governor was one of the greatest hydraulic engineering geniuses of all time.

The coincidence of hydraulic engineering skills and political leadership does not seem strange when it is remembered that water management was one of the critical issues in developing China, a land of droughts and floods.

The Yellow River, named for the yellowish silt it rushes through northern China, was known as "the father of floods." It and the Yangtze are the two great rivers of Chinese history, both originating in the Tibetan plateau and winding toward the sea on the east coast of China. The Yellow runs through arid northern regions and tends to silt up, raising the riverbed, which causes flooding unless dikes are built up around its banks. The Yangtze is a wider river with many navigable tributaries. It flows through the green and rainy center of China, bisecting the world's third largest country, from the Tibetan mountains to Shanghai on the East China Sea.

The rule of the wise Emperor Yao is said to have been a golden age of ancient China, and one reason for this was that Emperor Yao had tamed nature by introducing the concept of flood control. Li Bing has taken on some of the mythic dimensions of Yao, a god who conquered floods and tamed nature. But unlike the mythical Emperor Yao, Li Bing's existence is well documented. His most extraordinary accomplishment was the building of the first dam, which still functions in modernized form. At a place called Dujiangyan, he divided the Minjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze. The diverted water goes into a series of spillways and channels that can be opened to irrigate in times of droughts and closed in times of flooding. He had three stone figures of men placed in the water as gauges. If their feet were visible, this signaled drought conditions and the dam's gates were opened to let in water. If their shoulders were submerged, floodwaters had risen too high and the dam's gates were closed.

Because of the Dujiangyan dam system, the plains of eastern Sichuan became an affluent agricultural center of China. Ancient records called the area "Land of Abundance." With the dam still operating, the Sichuan plains remain an agricultural center today.

In 1974, two water gauges, carved in A.D. 168, were found in the riverbed by the site of Li Bing's dam. They seem to have been replacements for the original water gauge statues. One of them is the oldest Chinese stone figure ever found of an identifiable individual. It is a statue of Li Bing. The original gauges he had used depicted gods of flood control. Four centuries after his death, he was considered to be one of these gods.

Li Bing made a very simple but pivotal discovery. By his time, Sichuan had long been a salt-producing area. Salt is known to have been made in Sichuan as early as 3000 B.C. But it was Li Bing who found that the natural brine, from which the salt was made, did not originate in the pools where it was found but seeped up from underground. In 252 B.C., he ordered the drilling of the world's first brine wells.

These first wells had wide mouths, more like an open pit, though some went deeper than 300 feet. As the Chinese learned how to drill, the shafts got narrower and the wells deeper.

But sometimes the people who dug the wells would inexplicably become weak, get sick, lie down, and die. Occasionally, a tremendous explosion would kill an entire crew or flames spit out from the bore holes. Gradually, the salt workers and their communities realized that an evil spirit from some underworld was rising up through the holes they were digging. By 68 B.C., two wells, one in Sichuan and one in neighboring Shaanxi, became infamous as sites where the evil spirit emerged. Once a year the governors of the respective provinces would visit these wells and make offerings.

By A.D. 100, the well workers, understanding that the disturbances were caused by an invisible substance, found the holes where it came out of the ground, lit them, and started placing pots close by. They could cook with it. Soon they learned to insulate bamboo tubes with mud and brine and pipe the invisible force to boiling houses. These boiling houses were open sheds where pots of brine cooked until the water evaporated and left salt crystals. By A.D. 200, the boiling houses had iron pots heated by gas flames. This is the first known use of natural gas in the world.

Salt makers learned to drill and shore up a narrow shaft, which allowed them to go deeper. They extracted the brine by means of a long bamboo tube which fit down the shaft. At the bottom of the tube was a leather valve. The weight of the water would force the valve shut while the long tube was hauled out. Then the tube was suspended over a tank, where a poke from a stick would open the valve and release the brine into the tank. The tank was connected to bamboo piping that led to the boiling house. Other bamboo pipes, planted just below the wellhead to capture escaping gas, also went to the boiling house.

Bamboo piping, which was probably first made in Sichuan, is salt resistant, and the salt kills algae and microbes that would cause rot. The joints were sea]ed either with mud or with a mixture of tung oil and lime. From the piping at Sichuan brine works, Chinese throughout the country learned to build irrigation and plumbing systems. Farms, villages, and even houses were built with bamboo plumbing. By the Middle Ages, the time of the Norman conquest of England, Su Dongpo, a bureaucrat born in Sichuan, was building sophisticated bamboo urban plumbing. Large bamboo water mains were installed in Hangzhou in 1089 and in Canton in 1096. Holes and ventilators were installed for dealing with both blockage and air pockets.

Salt producers spread out bamboo piping over the countryside with seeming chaos like the web of a monster spider. The pipes were laid over the landscape to use gravity wherever possible, rising and falling like a roller coaster, with loops to create long downhill runs.

In the mid-eleventh century, while King Harold was unsuccessfully defending England from the Normans, the salt producers of Sichuan were developing percussion drilling, the most advanced drilling technique in the world for the next seven or eight centuries.

A hole about four inches in diameter was dug by dropping a heavy eight-foot rod with a sharp iron bit, guided through a bamboo tube so that it kept pounding the same spot. The worker stood on a wooden lever, his weight counterbalancing the eight-foot rod on the other end. He rode the lever up and down, seesaw-like, causing the bit to drop over and over again. After three to five years, a well several hundred feet deep would strike brine.

In 1066, Harold was killed at Hastings by an arrow, the weapon the Chinese believe was invented in prehistory by Huangdi. At the time of Harold's death, the Chinese were using gunpowder, which was one of the first major industrial applications for salt. The Chinese had found that mixing potassium nitrate, a salt otherwise known as saltpeter, with sulfur and carbon created a powder that when ignited expanded to gas so quickly it produced an explosion. In the twelfth century, when European Crusaders were failing to wrest Jerusalem from the infidel Arabs, the Arabs were beginning to learn of the secret Chinese powder.



Li Bing had lived during one of the most important crossroads in Chinese history. Centuries of consolidation among warring states had at last produced a unified China. The unified state was the culmination of centuries of intellectual debate about the nature of government and the rights of rulers. At the center of that debate was salt.

Chinese governments for centuries had seen salt as a source of state revenue. Texts have been found in China mentioning a salt tax in the twentieth century B.C. The ancient character for salt, yan, is a pictograph in three parts. The lower part shows tools, the upper left is an imperial official, and the upper right is brine. So the very character by which the word salt was written depicted the state's control of its manufacture.

A substance needed by all humans for good health, even survival, would make a good tax generator. Everyone had to buy it, and so everyone would support the state through salt taxes.

The debate about the salt tax had its roots in Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 B.C. In Confucius's time the rulers of various Chinese states assembled what would today be called think tanks, in which selected thinkers advised the ruler and debated among themselves. Confucius was one of these intellectual advisers. Considered China's first philosopher of morality, he was disturbed by human foibles and wanted to raise the standard of human behavior. He taught that treating one's fellow human beings well was as important as respecting the Gods, and he emphasized the importance of respecting parents.

Confucius's students and their students built the system of thought known as Confucianism. Mencius, a student of Confucius's grandson, passed teachings down in a book called the Mencius. Confucius's ideas were also recorded in a book called The Analects, which is the basis of much Chinese thought and the source of many Chinese proverbs.

During the two and a half centuries between Confucius and Li Bing, China was a grouping of numerous small states constantly at war. Rulers fell, and their kingdoms were swallowed up by more powerful ones, which would then struggle with other surviving states. Mencius traveled in China explaining to rulers that they stayed in power by a "mandate from heaven" based on moral principles, and that if they were not wise and moral leaders, the gods would take away their mandate and they would fall from power.

But another philosophy, known as legalism, also emerged. The legalists insisted that earthly institutions effectively wielding power were what guaranteed a state's survival. One of the leading legalists was a man named Shang, who advised the Qin (pronounced CHIN) state. Shang said that respect for elders and tradition should not interfere with reforming, clearing out inefficient institutions and replacing them with more effective and pragmatic programs. Legalists struggled to eliminate aristocracy, thereby giving the state the ability to reward and promote based on achievement.

The legalist faction had a new idea about salt. The first written text on a Chinese salt administration is the Guanzi, which contains what is supposed to be the economic advice of a minister who lived from 685 to 643 B.C. to the ruler of the state of Qi. Historians agree that the Guanzi was actually written around 300 B.C., when only seven states still remained and the eastern state of Qi, much under the influence of legalism, was in a survival struggle, which it would eventually lose, with the western state of Qin.

Among the ideas offered by the minister was fixing the price of salt at a higher level than the purchase price so that the state could import the salt and sell it at a profit. "We can thus take revenues from what other states produce." The adviser goes on to point out that in some non-salt-producing areas people are ill from the lack of it and in their desperation would be willing to pay still higher prices. The conclusion of the Guanzi is that "salt has the singularly important power to maintain the basic economy of our state."

Revue de presse

"Kurlansky finds the world in a grain of salt...fascination and surprise regularly erupt from the detail." —The New York Times Book Review



This is terrific food writing; like fleur de sel, something scarce and to be savored." —San Francisco Chronicle



"Kurlansky continues to prove himself remarkably adept at taking a most unlikely candidate and telling its tale with epic grandeur. " —Los Angeles Times Book Review



"If you are drawn to history and curious about the origins of foods, allow Mark Kurlansky to take you on an incredible journey through the centuries by way of salt." —The Baltimore Sun



"Kurlansky does a masterful job of expanding the reader's horizons....This book of minutely researched data and history can literally make the mouth water." —The Boston Globe



 



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Once I STOOD on the bank of a rice paddy in rural Sichuan Province, and a lean and aging Chinese peasant, wearing a faded forty-year-old blue jacket issued by the Mao government in the early years of the Revolution, stood knee deep in water and apropos of absolutely nothing shouted defiantly at me, "We Chinese invented many things!" Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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256 internautes sur 278 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Definitely worth his salt . . . 7 avril 2004
Par Stephen A. Haines - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
It's become a party cliche to comment on our need for the results of combining a poisonous gas [chlorine] and a volatile metal [sodium]. Kurlansky passes quickly over such levity to seriously relate the role of sodium chloride in human society. While at first glance his account may seem overdone, a bit of reflection reveals that something so common in our lives is easily overlooked. Salt is essential to our existence. Our need is so strong and enduring that we tend to take its availability for granted. As a global history, this book is an ambitious attempt to re-introduce us to something we think common and uninteresting. It's immensely successful through Kurlansky's multi-faceted approach. He combines economics, politics, culinary practices, tradition and myth in making his presentation. About the only aspect ignored is the detailed biological one explaining why this compound is so necessary to our existence.
Because our need for salt is so fundamental, its history encompasses that of humanity. Salt was basic to many economies, Kurlansky notes. It's acted as the basis of exchange between traders, was the target of empire builders and even paid out to soldiers as a form of "salary" - hence the term. Venice, a coastal city tucked away from the main tracks of Mediterranean trade, bloomed into prominence when it discovered it could garner more profit by trading in salt than by manufacturing it. The Venetian empire and later renaissance was founded on the salt trade.
Empires may be built on salt, but can be felled by misguided policies on its trade and consumption. One element leading to the downfall of the French monarchy was the hated "gabelle", or salt tax, which imposed a heavier burden on farming peasants than it did on the aristocracy. The reputation of tax evasion borne by the French relates to the resentment expressed over the salt tax. A British regulation on salt resulted in similar reaction leading to the breakup up their own Empire. It was a "march to the sea" led by Mahatma Ghandi to collect salt that galvanised resistance to British rule. Over a century after the French Revolution, the British were displaced from India for similar reasons - greed.
While acknowledging the importance of salt in our lives, Kurlansky notes that determining how much is "too little" or "too much" is elusive. Many people today claim to have "salt-free" diets while remaining ignorant of how much salt is contained in our foods, both naturally and through processing. Yet, as Kurlansky records, salt has appeal beyond just the body's needs. He records numerous commentators from ancient Egypt, China and Rome who express their admiration for salt's flavour-adding qualities. Sauces based on various ingredients mixed with salt permeate the book. He notes that the salt dispenser is a modern innovation, supplementing the use of salt in cooking processes.
Salt's decline in conserving food, which changed the amount of salt we consume directly, came about due to increased world trade, displacement of rural populations into cities, and, of course, war. "The first blow" displacing salt as a preservative came from a Parisian cook; a man so obscure that his given name remains disputed. Nicolas [Francois?] Appert worked out how to preserve meat by "canning". Adopted by Napoleon's armies, the technique spread rapidly. The technology of the Industrial Revolution led to effective refrigeration. Kurlansky gives an account of Clarence Birdseye's efforts to found what became a major industry.
Although the topic seems overspecialised, the universal application and long historical view of this book establishes its importance. Kurlansky has successfully met an immense challenge in presenting a wealth of information. That he graces what might have been a dry pedantic exercise with recipes, anecdotes, photographs and maps grants this book wide appeal. He's to be congratulated for his worldly view and comprehensive presentation. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
75 internautes sur 82 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Worth his Salt 2 février 2002
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Yes, Kurlansky is worth his salt as a writer, researcher and uncoverer of unknown facts about odd subjects. As he did with his previous non fiction books he has woven strands of information into an interesting tapestry, equal parts - enthralling history lesson and cultural voyage. The only problem is - at 450 pages and 26 chapters, with numerous visits to different cultures, countries, eras and rulers in an attempt to cover as many of the 14,000 uses that salt is known for - finishing SALT: A WORLD HISTORY leaves you in a brine of facts, but also very thirsty for a unifying theme or story and a more memorable read.
Certainly my knowledge of historical trivia is now seasoned with tidbits such as: the Anglo-Saxon word for saltworks being 'wich' means that places such as Norwich, Greenwich, etc, in England were once ancient salt mines; Ghandi's independence movement in India began with his defying the British salt laws, and the French levied taxes on salt until as recently as 1946.
A common theme in Kurlansky's books is that food is seen as a topic of historical interest. Here we learn about the role salt played in preserving cod, whale, ham, herring, caviar, pastrami, salami and sausage, and as it was with COD and THE BASQUE HISTORY OF THE WORLD this book is sprinkled throughout with recipes.
Salt is certainly an interesting subject; cultural history buffs will love this book and Kurlansky still has a humorous, easy, and very readable writing style; it's just that he probably could have salted away some of the facts without us missing much and he should have developed a flowing theme rather than one that was so saltatory.
137 internautes sur 154 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A book to read with a grain of salt 24 avril 2003
Par Randyll McDermott - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I was browsing the new releases section of my local library when I happened to see this book. It had an interesting premise, and looked to be unlike any book I'd read before. I've read histories of people and places, but never of ingredients. I checked it out skeptically, and was pleasantly surprised.
Kurlansky is a very talented writer, he manages to make salt suspenseful. The book's purpose is to examine how salt affected the history of the world. He succeeds in this. However, the history is not really coherent, it doesn't really flow. Salt is essentially a collection of vignettes. These vignettes are grouped in chronological order. The first part of the book deals with salt in China and Rome. Part 2 concerns salt's effect in the Middle Ages and the wars of independence. Part 3 concludes the history by examining salt in modern times.
The main failing of this extensively researched account is Kurlansky attempts to link salt to every major world event. According to him, dissatisfaction with the salt tax led to the American and French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution came to be because of salt, and salted foods allowed the world to be explored. Nonetheless, the history is accessible and a fun to read, even if some of the author's conclusions are a bit off base.
135 internautes sur 152 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Taking a love of Salt to its logical extreme 7 décembre 2003
Par Keith Smith - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Salt is one of those things that turned up all over the place in my high school studies. It turned up in chemisty (sodium chloride), in biology (the amount of salt in our bodies and what we do with it), in history and English (check out the root of the word: "salary"). So sure, salt's important. But does it merit its own entire book about its history? Turns out the answer is both yes and no...
I like these small, focused histories (as you've probably guessed if you've read any of the other reviews I've written). I've read many of them, including another one by Mark Kurlansky, Cod (which I rather enjoyed). So when I ran across Salt, I was certain I wanted to read it. I liked Kurlansky's style, and I already knew that the subject matter would be interesting.
And it was. In Salt, Kurlansky walks through both the history of salt and the influence of salt on history, presenting a wide and varied picture of one of the [now] most common elements in our modern world. And he does this in the same engaging fashion that he used in Cod; although, with fewer recipes. So why not give it five stars? Well, it has a couple of noticable flaws that tended to detract a bit from the overall presentation.
The first flaw was in the sheer number of historical snippets that were included. While I'm certain that salt has been important in the broad span of human history, there are a number of these historical anecdotes where he was clearly reaching to demonstrate the influence of salt. Salt may have been involved in these incidents, but it was peripheral at best, and the overall tone sounds too much like cheerleading. Cutting a few of these out would have shortened the book without detracting from the presentation at all.
The second flaw was the meandering path that he takes through the history of salt. He generally starts early in history, and his discussion moves along roughly as history does as well; however, he has a tendency to wander a bit both forward and backward without effectively tying all of this together. I'd have preferred to either walk straight through history while skipping around the world (effectively comparing the use and influence of salt around the world) or to have taken more time to discuss why we were rewinding (effectively following one thread to its conclusion and then picking up another parallel one). To me it made the presentation a little too choppy.
There have been other criticisms as well; for example, the chemistry is incorrect in a number of places, but if you're using this as a chemical reference, then you've got serious issues with your ability to library research. Of course, that begs the question of what errors are in there that we didn't catch. And it does tend to be a bit repetitive in parts; although, this could have been used to good effect if historical threads had been followed a bit more completely.
While I had a few dings on the book, overall I liked it. The fact that I read it end-to-end and enjoyed the last chapter as much as the first is a testament to my general enjoyment of it. It wasn't the best book I read last year, but I'll certainly keep it on my bookshelf. So, back to my original question: does salt merit its own book? Yes, it does, but perhaps in a somewhat shorter form.
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forget the pepper 23 janvier 2002
Par marzipan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This was a Christmas gift, and no sooner had I started to read it when I couldn't stop. I discovered, to my entertainment and education, that salt definitely isn't just something you sprinkle on your salad, along with the pepper. (Did you know the word "salad" comes from the Latin for salt?)
Mark Kurlansky's telling of the story of salt, its huge role in world history, is spellbinding. He manages to get the awesome early history of China, with its advanced, non-western technology, told in the context of the search for salt. From China, to Egypt, to Roman conquests, to the Carribbean salt pans, to Ghandi's mission in India, to early industry in upstate New York, salt was a leader. And now I know why gourmet sea salt from Brittany is gray.
Salt is one of those products, along with hunting weapons, and the earliest grains, that has guided human destiny. That's not hyperbole. Read this wonderful book and find out why!
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