Salt: A World History

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A really good book, the first that I've liked in the “Noun” title category.

I read it a few months ago, so of course don't remember much of the details — however, I do remember that it covered an amazing swath of knowledge, from the history of the term “red herring” to the importance of La Rochelle in France, back when how much cod you could catch and how much salt you needed to make salt cod mattered. Last tidbit I remember: something like 45% of salt usage is now due to de-icing of roads.

Color (Colour in my edition)

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Another good book in the Noun category. This one has a chapter per color, recounting various social, historical, artistic and chemical facts about each of the ingredients for the various colors covered (Ocher, Black and Brown, White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). You learn about red:

This particular red, carmine, is really made of blood. For centuries it was the treasure of the Incas and the Aztecs. [...]. “Squeeze”, he said, and I squeezed, and for a moment the creature's hard body resisted, and then it popped like a piece of bubble wrap, leaving a thick dark scarlet stain on my palm.

(it's nice to be able to search inside books at Amazon).

You learn about the endless debates over Stradivarius' violin stain (orange? red? does it matter?); You learn that we haven't forgotten how to make Gothic blue (as found in the Cathedrale de Chartres), and that making a black that was worthy of the protestant god was tremendously hard because while there are black pigments, they tend to not be soluble in water, and hence are hard to fix in fabric. Strangely silly stuff to report, but quite an engaging book nonetheless.

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