It is a common rock, but it has shaped civilisation. Wars have been fought over it. It is rumoured to excite sexual desire. It prevents decay. It protects against the evil eye. You crave it more than you need it. It has 14,000 uses. It goes very well with cod (and chips).
Homer called salt a divine substance. Plato described it as especially dear to the gods. As Mark Kurlansky so brilliantly relates in his world-encompassing new book, salt has shaped civilisation from the beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of mankind.
Salt revenues have funded some of the greatest public works in history, including the port of Liverpool, while salt's ability to preserve and to sustain life have made it a metaphorical symbol in all religions. Just as significantly, as Kurlansky, an award-winning food writer, relates, salt has moulded eating habits and cultures all over the world.
Veined with colourful characters - from Li Bing, the Chinese bureaucrat who built the world's first dam in 250 BC, to Pattillo Higgins and Anthony Lucas, who drilled an east Texas salt dome in 1901 and discovered an oil reserve so large it gave birth to the age of petroleum - 'Salt' encompasses fields as disparate as engineering, religion and food, all of which Kurlansky richly explores.
From the rural Sichuan province where the last home-made soya sauce is made to the Cheshire brine springs that supplied salt around the globe, Mark Kurlansky has produced a kaleidoscope of world history, a multi-layered masterpiece that blends political, commercial, scientific, religious and culinary records into a rich and memorable tale.