rocks, royalty, and the romans: Mark Kurlansky’s Salt

saltI enjoy reading non-fiction, and one of the best bits of reading this genre is that you can, occasionally, look at a book and think, “Wow, someone wrote an entire book on that?” with equal parts bemusement and fascination.  Salt was such a book for me.  I knew, of course, that salt was an essential part of a healthy diet (and a large part of some un-healthy ones…), but, beyond that fact and a vague sense that salt was a good cleaning agent, and you could use it to exfoliate, I didn’t really know what a book that went on about salt for over 400 pages would be like.

It turns out; it’s pretty good. Kurlansky kept me entertained for the entire book, and it was good enough that, a few days ago, I picked it up to read again. Even the second time around, it’s still a very entertaining book.

Kurlansky does an excellent job of tracing the history of salt through what I thought of as “the better-known bits of history” (the American Civil War, the Roman Empire, English colonization), but he especially shines at drawing out the part salt had in the daily life of everyone–whether it’s a peasant in medieval France or American settlers struggling to become self-sufficient and independent. There are enough small details to make the entire story of salt flow, and it is easy to follow the story of salt as it darts around the world (following the rise and fall of empires, as it happens).

Salt is everywhere, and it turns out to be a fascinating subject–especially because the modern vision of salt is as a danger (and a sneaky, occasionally hidden one at that), but the story of salt, and how it saved and supported people as they travelled and lived all over the world is one worth knowing–and it is a well-written one, at that.