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Salt: Grain of Life

Popular Science
Erudite and entertaining monograph on salt

Series: Arts and Traditions of the Table

By: Pierre Laszlo (Author), Albert Sonnenfeld (Foreword By)

193 pages, 10 b/w illustrations

Columbia University Press

Hardback | Jul 2001 | #118127 | ISBN: 0231121989
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £27.50 $35/€33 approx

About this book

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.

"I have been darting, delightedly, from one section to another – from Salting Herring to extreme halophiles, to Spectroscopy. It is a marvellous mosaic leavened with great charm and lightness."
– Oliver Sacks

"Takes us through the astonishing history of this substance with lightness as well as learning [...] [his] observations are fascinating."
– Roy Herbert, NewScientist.com

"The distinction between the scientific and the nonscientific blurs. One becomes astonished that every day one samples a chemical with such a rich cultural aura – which is to say the wager by the author is a success."
Le Monde

"A weirdly compelling blend of chemical analysis and anecdotal history."
– Teresa Weaver, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Readers will never again think of salt [...] in the same simple way."
The Washington Post Book World

"A slender, impish concoction [...] To say this is a quirky book is like saying Rita Hayworth was an okay-looking gal [...] Calvinesque in many ways – filled with lightness, delightful tangents, postmodernist hijinks."
The Globe and Mail

"History, chemistry, physics, economics, anthropology, technology [...] linguistics, art history [...] and culinary arts are all explored in this wonderful, multicultural Renaissance approach to the subject of salt [...] Salt is not just plain, and this book is a pleasure to read."
Choice

"A breathless read [...] because of the suprising appeal and importance of the subject itself."
Houston Chronicle

"Offers a rich pickle barrel of facts and anecdotes about salt."
London Review of Books

"Rich in fact and analysis [...] takes the seemingly trivial subject of salt and implies that it is not merely an essential element of life but that it is perhaps the veritable motor of human history."
Gastronomica

"Laszlo takes something ordinary, looks at it through his dazzling prism of knowledge, and allows the reader to experience its extraordinariness in the process."
– Betty Fussell, author of The Story of Corn


Contents

Foreword by Albert Sonnenfeld, series editor

The Proverb of Salt on Lettuce

Osmosis and Salt Curing

Salting Herring

The Cossacks of the Don

The Proverb of Friendship Over Salt

Food Preservation

Flavor Concentrates

Saucing

Saumandises

Cookery

The Proverb on Success in Love

The Salting Tub

From the Salty to the Sweet: Saint Nicholas

Settled and Nomadic Peoples

On Camelback

Mind of Salt

Saint-John Perse

West Salt Story, 1650--1850

Salt Routes

The Proverb of the Tardy Salt

Alpine Salt

Lick

Like the Dawn

Technical Vocabularies

The Proverb of the Bland Egg

Salt Domes

Mining

The Proverb of Rejecting the Bland

Solar-Evaporation Saltworks

The Beginning of "Çatrix"

Onondaga, Success, and Decay

Desalination of Seawater

Technology and Social Structure

National Sovereignty

The Proverb of the Marsh Purchase

Venice

The Seeds of Modern Times

The Dutch Revolt

The Gabelle

An Admonishment to a King

Taxation

A Mine Near Krakow

The Warrior's Saying

Citadel of Salt

The Proverb of the Cardinal Points

Gandhi

The Salinity of the Ocean

A Marine Origin?

What Osmosis Consists Of

The Two Kinds of Organisms

Fish

Thirst and Lack of Salt

The Nerve Impulse

Extreme Halophiles

A Frenchman's Look at the Great Salt Lake

Alchemy

Michigan Salt

Raw Material for an Industry

The Age of Vinyl

Salt and Cold

Salt and Water

The Wine Stain

Slippages

Water Softening

Salt Glazing

Invention of Spectroscopy

Variation on the Same Old Tune

The Saying About the Red Herring

The Saugrenu

Punning in the Rain

From Salt to Salts

Ritual and Liturgical Uses of Salt in the Bible

Salt and Dance

Aztec Bacchus

The Proverb of the Aspersion

Saltcellars

Benvenuto Cellini

Decorative Arts: From Colbert to Queyras

The Saying on the Pinch of Salt

Stendhalian Crystallization

Ramakrishna's Emblem

Conclusion: Ethics and Politics

Popularization

The Representation of History

Afterword: The Union of Earth and Sea

1. Salt-Cured Foods

2. Nomads

3. Harvesting

4. Abuse of Power

5. Biology

6. Other Science Insights

7. Myths


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Biography

Pierre Laszlo is an emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Liège, Belgium, and the École polytechnique near Paris, France. Of his many published works six have been translated into English, including Organic Reactions: Logic and Simplicity and Organic Chemistry Using Clays.

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