For the sake of salt, Rome created a system of remuneration (from which we get the word "salary"), nomads domesticated the camel, the Low Countries revolted against their Spanish oppressors, and Gandhi marched against the tyranny of the British. Through the ages, salt has conferred status, preserved foods, and mingled in the blood, sweat, and tears of humanity. Today, chefs of haute cuisine covet it in its most exotic forms -- underground salt deposits, Hawaiian black lava salt, glittery African crystals, and pink Peruvian salt from the sea carried in bricks on the backs of llamas.
From proverbs to technical arguments, from anecdotes to examples of folklore, chemist and philosopher Pierre Laszlo takes us through the kingdom of "white gold." With "enthusiasm and freshness" ( "Le Monde") he mixes literary analysis, history, anthropology, biology, physics, economics, art history, political science, chemistry, ethnology, and linguistics to create a full body of knowledge about the everyday substance that rocked the world and brings zest to the ordinary. Laszlo explains the history behind Morton Salt's slogan "When it rains, it pours " and looks into the plight of the salt miner, as well as spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance. "Salt" is a tour de force about a chemical compound that is one of the very foundations of civilization.
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. (Kirkus Reviews)
|salt-cured foods||p. 1|
|abuse of power||p. 57|
|other science insights||p. 105|
|conclusion: ethics ad politics||p. 165|
|afterword: the union of earth and sea||p. 171|
|Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.|
Series: Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History
For Ages: 22+ years old
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 27th June 2001
Dimensions (cm): 22.8 x 16.1 x 1.766
Weight (kg): 0.424