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Nahas Mahas · Misc > Basque > Features > Books > Book Review: The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky
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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

Pages: 387

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

  1. The Basque Myth

  2. The Basque Problem

  3. The Basque Whale

  4. The Basque Saint

  5. The Basque Billy Goat

  6. The Wealth of Non-Nations

Part Two: The Dawn of Euskadi

The Basque Onomatopoeia

  1. The Basque Beret

  2. The Basque Ear

  3. Gernika

  4. The Potato Time

  5. Speaking Christian

  6. Eventually Night Falls

Part Three: Euskadi Askatuta

Slippery Maketos

  1. The Great Opportunity

  2. Checks and Balances

  3. Surviving Democracy

  4. The Nation


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.

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bookseh at sc dot rr dot com
22-Oct-2007 11:22
I read this wonderful book prior to my first visit to San Sebastian (Donostia) in 2003. I found it to be an excellent source of information. I met author Mark Kurlansky at a booksigning event in Los Angeles. His love for the Basque region is immense; he visits often. In addition to this book, I also recommend "Cod; A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World." Mark Kurlansky knows and writes about food. That he loves both food and the Basques is apparent in his wonderful books. His other books are also great reading.
xabierurra at hotmail dot com
19-Apr-2006 15:38
Sheep fighting was quite common some years ago. Two male sheep (rams?) were put in front of each other and they would run and hit their heads as they do when they are fighting for a female. I didn't like it.

I just started to read this book and despite I am basque I find it quite interesting. There are some ideas that I had not think about before, for example, that basque people have often had practical approaches to problems despite their stubborness. I would think catalans were like this.

And most importantly, now that ETA has declared a final ceasefire, this is a great time for the basques.
don dot forbes at unilever dot com
06-Jan-2005 22:29
I have just read this book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although I have not read anything else specifically about Basqueland, it struck me as well-researched and fairly objective. The author seems to be sympathetic to the Basque people without denying their faults or covering up for the darker aspects of their history.

One of the things that struck me was the extent of police brutality and torture AFTER Franco. The book is worth reading just for this information alone. On a happier note I was pleased to learn that Athletic Bilbao takes on only local players - I thought the global market had wiped out that kind of thing.

Can anyone help me with this question? What on earth is sheep-fighting?

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Last updated: Mon, 29 Oct 2007 - 21:31:14

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