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Book Review: The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky
by Chris Bates
Jan 02, 2005
The Basque History of The World
Author: Mark Kurlansky
Price: £7.99 (Paperback)
The Basques are Europe's oldest people, their origins a mystery, their language related to no other on Earth, and even though few in population and from a remote and rugged corner of Spain and France, they have had a profound impact on the world. Whilst inward-looking, preserving their ancient language and customs, the Basques also struck out for new horizons, pioneers of whaling and cod fishing, leading the way in exploration of the Americas and Asia, were among the first capitalists and later led Southern Europe's industrial revolution. Mark Kurlansky, the author of the acclaimed Cod, blends human stories with economic, political, literary and culinary history to paint a fascinating picture of an intriguing people.
Part One: The Survival of Euskal Herria
The Basque Cake
Part Two: The Dawn of Euskadi
The Basque Onomatopoeia
Part Three: Euskadi Askatuta
I have read several books on the history of Spain and its peoples (los castellanos, euskaldunak, and others), but this book is the first I have read that treats that history from a point of view sympathetic to the Basques. It deals with what is known about the history of the Basque people and their interaction with the nations around them, especially Spain, from the time of the Roman and before to the present day. It does at times have an unfortunate, somewhat too nostalgic, "ye olde world" air to it that you also find in books written about Celtic culture and language, but this is more than made up for (from the point of view of the foreigner to Basque culture) by the wealth of information about various aspects of life in Euskal Herria, especially cooking. In every chapter you'll find at least one recipe for a Basque (usually sea-food) dish, and scattered throughout the books are interesting quotes, stories, Basque songs and poems, and the Author's own, interesting, views about the Basques and their history. Mark Kurlansky clearly has a lot of interest in his subject matter and has obviously researched it deeply, and the personal feel of some of the writing that at times makes it a dubious objective history is what makes it a joy to read.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Basques and isn't already familiar with their history and culture simply because not only is it informative but it is a joy to read. For Basques themselves, or someone who lives in Euskadi however, I suspect that this book would offer less, and probably be a disappointment.