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."
"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."
"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
Foreword by Albert Sonnenfeld, series editor
The Proverb of Salt on Lettuce
Osmosis and Salt Curing
The Cossacks of the Don
The Proverb of Friendship Over Salt
The Proverb on Success in Love
The Salting Tub
From the Salty to the Sweet: Saint Nicholas
Settled and Nomadic Peoples
Mind of Salt
West Salt Story, 1650--1850
The Proverb of the Tardy Salt
Like the Dawn
The Proverb of the Bland Egg
The Proverb of Rejecting the Bland
The Beginning of "Çatrix"
Onondaga, Success, and Decay
Desalination of Seawater
Technology and Social Structure
The Proverb of the Marsh Purchase
The Seeds of Modern Times
The Dutch Revolt
An Admonishment to a King
A Mine Near Krakow
The Warrior's Saying
Citadel of Salt
The Proverb of the Cardinal Points
The Salinity of the Ocean
A Marine Origin?
What Osmosis Consists Of
The Two Kinds of Organisms
Thirst and Lack of Salt
The Nerve Impulse
A Frenchman's Look at the Great Salt Lake
Raw Material for an Industry
The Age of Vinyl
Salt and Cold
Salt and Water
The Wine Stain
Invention of Spectroscopy
Variation on the Same Old Tune
The Saying About the Red Herring
Punning in the Rain
From Salt to Salts
Ritual and Liturgical Uses of Salt in the Bible
Salt and Dance
The Proverb of the Aspersion
Decorative Arts: From Colbert to Queyras
The Saying on the Pinch of Salt
Conclusion: Ethics and Politics
The Representation of History
Afterword: The Union of Earth and Sea
1. Salt-Cured Foods
4. Abuse of Power
6. Other Science Insights
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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.