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The Basque History of the World [Hardcover]

Mark Kurlansky
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Oct 1999
They are a mythical people, almost an imagined people, writes Kurlansky. Signs of their civilization exist well before the arrival of the Romans in 218BC. Their forbidden tongue is equally mysterious, it is related to no other, but today the Basques are enjoying what may be the most important cultural renaissance in their long existence.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd (28 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224060554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224060554
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 14.6 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 566,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

After basking in the shallows of success that surrounded Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky turns his attentions to the people who first hunted it and in doing so may have discovered America before John Cabot could say Isparsortalderatu. In a sense The Basque History of the World is the natural successor to Cod, for it grows organically from that book's early chapters. It unfolds the dramatic tale of the Basques as they fight off the challenges of the Vikings, the Romans, the Muslims and, for centuries now, the Spanish; proudly defensive of the remote and rugged hills on the edge of the Pyrenees, where Shakespeare set Love's Labour's Lost and that echoes with their peculiar agglutinating tongue. They are possibly Europe's aborigines and their language, unlike any other, was reputed to originate from, variously, the Tower of Babel, Atlantis and even the Garden of Eden. What's for certain is that it has defined their being when all else has been taken from them and that today, emerging from the shadow of the Franco regime's persecution, Europe's oldest nation wants to be its newest state. Kurlansky's recipe is reassuringly and familiarly unorthodox: intermingled with a stirring narrative are maps, photographs, pieces of reportage, quirky facts and, of course, recipes--the Basques are justly proud of their fish--and bean-based cuisine, something Kurlansky is not slow to savour. Where Cod was not simply about a big fish in The Big Pond but embraced the thorny problem of global over-fishing, The Basque History of the World does not confine its scope to the two and a half million people living in the seven Basque provinces. It speaks of violently modern and pervasive issues such as the notion of nationhood, borders and identity, and does so in a slyly humorous yet always passionate way. Be warned: This is not insipid, literary chloroform. What the imperious Kurlansky has written is a magnificently personal and driven tribute to a people and culture that have spellbound him for years and will warm the cockles of your heart (before adding them to a Ttoro stew). --David Vincent


"A diligently researched, entertainingly anecdotal and lovingly partisan history" (Independent)

"[An] informative, quirky and delightful book" (Express)

"A riveting [story] told with charm and dexterity" (Independent on Sunday)

"The award-winning author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World takes an equally unconventional and engaging approach to those curmudgeonly nationalists, the Basques... Each chapter...addresses a particular facet of Basque culture...while the whole is punctured with simple but mouth-watering recipes reflecting the glorious tradition of Basque cuisine. Proof - if proof were needed - that learning about history can be fun" (Kirkus Review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Basque History of the World. 16 Nov 2003
So much I have always wanted to know.
Amazing information on Basque history, politics and best of all cooking.... Baccaloa recipes.
The section on the linguistics of the Basque language is so easy to follow and I very much enjoyed the guide on how to pronounce the inpenetrable "tx."
The coverage of the American influence on Basque feelings and the effect of Franco on the immediate lives of the Basque people was electrifying.
The bibliograhy is stunning.
An extremely well-written and wonderfully researched book.
I would reccommend it anyone who is interested in exploring the totality of "Spanish Culture and History."
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for historical survival 31 May 2001
Mark Kurlansky, author of 'The Basque History of the World' (Jonathan Cape; 1999) presents one of the most accomplished books on Basque history ever written in English. Kurlansky blends human stories with cultural, political and culinary history. He, like many other authors is attracted by the challenge of the survival of this small country throughout thousands of years. Kurlansky reveals a different point of view on the Basque people, far from the stereotypes imposed by many modern journalists. The author, as a journalist himself, highlights the Basque's outstanding impact on Europe's historical evolution. "No word less describes Basques than the term separatist...Considering how small a group the Basques are, they have made remarkable contributions to world history", Kurlansky adds. The modern Basque Country represents a human group constituted by hardly three million people lost in the swarms of the great human crowds. A significant fact of the Basque Country is the tenacity for the historical survival, its touch of distinction for the cultural creation, and its collective memory for the development of a social identity. While the world has entered into the Third Millennium, over 650,000 people are speaking a language, Euskera, whose roots can be found in the Stone Age (6,000BC). The Basque sociologist Ruiz de Olabuenaga argues that "something that had defined and is still defining men and women of the Basque society is the conviction that we ourselves must create our own future and that the excellence of the history of this country can be lost. We are a small country but solid, intense,passionate between the unconditional fidelity to our tradition and the maximum compromise to the ambiguity of the future". Kurlansky summarizes the aspiration of the Basque people for such historical survival in the final sentence of his book: 'Garean gareana legez' - 'Let us be what we are' - (from Esteban de Garibay, Basque Historian, XVIthC).
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four plus three equals one (Basque graffiti) 6 Aug 2005
There are a total of seven provinces in Basque land. Three are in France and four are in Spain. Consequently, the birth of local Basque wall graffiti, "four plus three equals one." "The Basque History of the World," is a comprehensive historical portrait of a proud people. Moreover, author Mark Kurlansky details the very unique and "tenacious" characteristics of the Basque population. Interestingly enough, Kurlansky argues that the Basque tongue, "Euskera" is likely the oldest living European language.
Kurlansky's narrative starts in the Bronze age, examines the bloody difficulties of the Spanish Civil War, it documents the stunning bravery of the Basque people during World War II, and reports the terrible human rights violations inflicted on the Basque people by the Franco Dictatorship. Kurlansky also does not fail to report the impressive economic development of the region from fishing to shipbuilding to steel manufacturing. On a diplomatic note, the author makes a point of reporting the shameful American State Department betrayal of the Basque people due to Cold War politics. Finally, this book is an important source of information for all Latin may very well discover your own links to the Basque culture. Recommended.
Bert Ruiz
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Better editing might have produced a shorter more interesting book. The early history of Basqueland and it's forays into trade and commerce are interesting, but could have been shortened without loss of import. The long term difficulties between Spain and the Basques from the end of Middle Ages onwards makes for mediocre reading unfortunately because the book is largely propagandistic;(substitute North Korea for Basqueland, and you get the picture, "here is the tree where Kim Il Sung's mother cooked rice", etc.).Basques wear white hats, everyone else black. Large sections could have been reduced to short paragraphs given the frequent repetition of information. Hardly three or four pages pass without some noting of Basque linguistic xenophobia, the Basque flag, or the numerous petty intolerances riving Basqueland. There is little credible political analysis at any point, and this is the most profound weakness. Mundane events are elevated to almost mystical status (cooking fish, hat wearing, type of shoes, etc.). Basques, especially the agarians live a more authentic life than others - or so one might infer. The killing of a pig in the final chapter crystallises this naivete.The rest of Spain only exists in so far as it can play the villian of the piece. The treatment of ETA is facile, and the unanalytic shortcomings of the book are most evident here. The advances in regionalisation under Gonzalez are not given due weight. All in all the book has interesting material within it,but a shorter more focused critical work would have been of more service to modern European readers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable History and More
This book may not match more conventional histories from the point of view of its scholarship, but the author is very perceptive in using the unique Basque sense of identity and... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Richard Newbold
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Very interesting read on the history of a small nation from their point of view. I recommend it. Enjoyed it very much.
Published 6 months ago by Jack
4.0 out of 5 stars The great survivors
The land of the Basques is now four provinces in north-east Spain and three provinces in south-west France; thus the old Basque graffito 4+3 = 1. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mac McAleer
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the Basque story and try out their recipes - all in one book
The basques have a fascinating history - I thought I knew that before reading the book - but Mark Kurlansky adds to that with many links to other country's history such as Spain... Read more
Published 16 months ago by R. F. Poole
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice view of the Basque Country
I really liked it because it is entertaining and it gives a very good description of our people and our habits
Published 17 months ago by nekane
5.0 out of 5 stars Our history from a different point of view
As a basque, I bought this book full of curiosity. It is great to look at our history from an outsider's point of view. Read more
Published on 15 April 2012 by Beñat
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read
i got this book for my husband for christmas,he didnt understand why i am so proud of being basque. now he also made me even more proud
Published on 29 Jan 2012 by biktor
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book
Even if you are not a lover of history books, this is a excellent book and a definite must read for travellers to Spain and the South West of France.
Published on 25 Oct 2011 by lesley eaton
5.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative, compelling, colourful Basque history
This all encompassing history of a small region of Europe I have never been to and have no reason to empathise with, managed to provide compelling reading. Read more
Published on 23 Oct 2010 by M. Hillmann
5.0 out of 5 stars Basque History
This is a beautifully written and captivating description of Basque culture and history. I would thoroughly recommend reading this book.
Published on 23 Aug 2010 by Baff
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