Kurlansky, Mark 1948-
Kurlansky, Mark 1948-
PERSONAL: Born December 7, 1948, in Hartford, CT; married; children: one daughter. Education: Butler University, B.A., 1970.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Ballantine Publishing Group, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Former international correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Herald Tribune (Paris). Freelance writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: James A. Beard Award for excellence in food writing, 1998, for Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World; named to the Basque Hall of Fame by the Society of Basque Studies in America.
A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1992.
A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1994.
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1997.
The Basque History of the World, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1999.
The White Man in the Tree, and Other Stories, Washington Square Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Cod's Tale (juvenile), Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.
Salt: A World History, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor and illustrator) Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.
1968: The Year That Rocked the World, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
(And illustrator) The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, translated into Basque by Javier Cillero Goiriastuena, Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno (Reno, NV), 2005.
Boogaloo on Second Avenue: A Novel of Pastry, Guilt, and Music, Ball antine Books (New York, Y), 2005.
The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.
The Story of Salt (juvenile), illustrated by S.D. Schindler, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2006.
Also contributor to anthologies, including The Junky's Christmas, Serpent's Tail, 1994. Author of food history column for Food and Wine. Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, Partisan Review, and Audubon. Kurlansky's works have been translated into half a dozen languages.
ADAPTATIONS: Several of the author's works have been adapted for audio books, including The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, The Basque History of the World, and Boogaloo on Second Avenue: A Novel of Pastry, Guilt, and Music.
SIDELIGHTS: Mark Kurlansky's years as a correspondent in Europe and the Caribbean inform his nonfiction and fiction alike. Some of his books are popular "niche histories," including Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and The Basque History of the World. Others reflect his seven-year stay on the Caribbean islands and his affinity for the indigenous people therein. "At a time when authors seem increasingly to be specialists, Mark Kurlansky is a determined do-it-all man," noted John F. Baker in Publishers Weekly. Baker refers to the fact that Kurlansky's books vary in subject matter, although all of them reflect his interest in the local cuisine of the countries in which he has traveled.
Cod and its counterpart for children, The Cod's Tale, trace the evolution of the cod fishing industry from the earliest European incursions into the species' North Atlantic grounds to the near-extinction of the fish that nourished millions. The work is disturbing; it charts fundamental behavioral changes in the remaining meager stocks of cod and how some fishermen have circumvented ever more stringent laws on quotas. "Kurlansky's tale is engrossingly tragic, as he details the sad and maddening story of how modern-day fishermen came to find themselves 'at the wrong end of a 1,000-year fishing spree,'" observed Allston James in Whole Earth. In an online review for Eclectica, Ann Skea wrote: "This unusual, beautifully produced and fascinating little book is [Kurlansky's] own celebration of that humble but important fish, and a warning of our own fragile place in nature's closely-linked ecological web."
Kurlansky's story of the cod reveals the role played by Basque fishers and mariners in the popularization of cod as food. The Basque History of the World studies the ancient Basque culture, its politics, religion, customs, cuisine, and expectations for continuation not necessarily as an independent nation but as an autonomous group within two nations—Spain and France. In a review of the book for Geographical, Miranda Haines wrote: "Mark Kurlansky sets out to discover who the mysterious, and warring people of the Basque country are. We follow the adventures and trials of famous Basque soldiers, sportsmen, bankers, whalers, fishermen, explorers and industrialists through the ages." Atlantic Monthly contributor Phoebe-Lou Adams characterized the book as "lively, anecdotal, [and] all-encompassing." Alan Riding, writing in the New York Times Book Review, deemed it "entertaining and instructive," adding: "Kurlansky needs to recount this history because it is inseparable from the Basque identity. But happily, he intersperses his political and military chronicle with lively anecdotes and digressions about everything from the origins of the Basque beret to the intricate rules of the ball game variously known as jai alai or pelota."
The White Man in the Tree, and Other Stories marked Kurlansky's debut as a fiction writer. The collection consists of short stories and a novella, all set in the various nations of the Caribbean and Central America. In his New York Times Book Review critique of the title, Bob Shacochis commented that its publication marked Kurlansky for membership in an "exclusive club of letters—peripatetic book-writing correspondents equally at ease afoot in the imagination and the world." Shacochis further praised the book for its "trove of fascinating characters and stories as potent as bush rum." Library Journal contributor Joshua Cohen noted that "the uniqueness of Caribbean culture is amplified" in Kurlansky's tales "with irony, humor, and pathos." Noting the "dexterity" with which Kurlansky moved into fiction, Brendan Dowling, writing in Booklist appreciated Kurlansky's "abiding love for his characters,"
The author returned to the realm of nonfiction with Salt: A World History. This often overlooked household item serves as the focal point for Kurlansky's sweeping epic, which transports readers through time and around the world. Though many might question whether such a topic could yield enough information to fill an entire book, Kurlansky reminds the reader that salt is not merely a common spice but also a commodity that helped to shape the world as we know it today. Besides littering his book with facts both basic (salt is produced by a chemical reacting to a base) and fascinating (the human body contains enough salt to fill three average sized shakers), Kurlansky demonstrates the lasting effects salt has had on everything from religion, to politics, to economics. In a review for the Library Journal, one critic described Salt as "an entertaining, informative read," while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that the book would be "sure to entertain as well as educate."
Food, and all of the memories and events that surround the act of eating, serve as the focus of the author's next project: Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History. Acting as editor, Kurlansky chose to include essays on a wide range of topics such as favorite restaurants, food-related reminiscences, and even the relationship between food and sex. A contributor to Publishers Weekly noted that Kurlansky's attention to detail and clever arrangement provides the reader with "a wide range of tastes." One Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that the author "describes with wit and zest cooks, cooking, and cuisines."
In 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, Kurlansky takes a serious look at a turbulent year in world history—a year marked by such social and political upheaval that the author starts the book with the remark: "There has never been a year like 1968, and it is unlikely that there will ever be one again." Kurlansky offers readers a global perspective on the major events that changed the course of world history in 1968. From student protests of the Vietnam War, to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, to the emergence of the feminist movement, many remember 1968 as a year marked by fear and frustration. But, as Kurlansky points out, it was also a year that brought people together through the mutual desire to make our world a better place. In a review of the book for Spectator, critic Jonathan Mirsky commented that Kurlansky's narrative of this explosive year gave him "the shivers," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "says so much so well about a year that still steals your breath away."
The author's debut novel, Boogaloo on Second Avenue: A Novel of Pastry, Guilt, and Music, is a colorful look at a small, ethnic community on New York's Lower East Side during the 1980s. At the center of the story is Nathan Seltzer, a Jewish man struggling with paralyzing claustrophobia, thoughts of selling his copy shop to a major chain, and the temptation to cheat on his wife with the daughter the German pastry shop owner, who may have been a Nazi. Things are further complicated by a string of mysterious shootings that terrorize the residents of the neighborhood. In an article for Kirkus Reviews, one critic called Kurlansky's first novel "sugary but far from insubstantial." Kevin Greczek, writing for the Library Journal, noted the importance Kurlansky places on his characters's "experiences as immigrants" and "how their quirks help them persevere."
In his 2006 publication The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, Kurlansky once again uses a small, uncommon subject to gain a larger perspective of the world. The history of the once plentiful oyster population, now depleted by over harvesting, helps tell the story of New York City itself. From Henry Hudson's journey up river to the present day, the oyster's path often parallels the city's. In a review of The Big Oyster for Booklist, Keir Graff acknowledged Kurlansky's knack for making "the ordinary extraordinary." A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that "Kurlansky's history digresses all over the place, and sparkles."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 3, 2000, Diane Roberts, "Biting Wit Drives Caribbean Stories."
Atlantic Monthly, November, 1999, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 125.
Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2004, Pearl Stewart, review of 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, p. 39.
Booklist, August, 1997, Ray Olson, review of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, p. 1859; October 15, 1999, Ray Olson, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 414; January 1, 2000, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 814; September 15, 2000, Brendan Dowling, review of The White Man in the Tree, and Other Stories, p. 217; December 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Cod, p. 617, and Carolyn Phelan, review of The Cod's Tale, p. 644; January, 1, 2002, Ray Olson, review of Salt: A World History, p. 785; November 15, 2002, Mark Knoblauch, review of Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History, p. 562; November 15, 2003, Keir Graff, review of 1968, p. 546; December 15, 2004, Mark Knoblauch, review of Boogaloo on Second Avenue: A Novel of Pastry, Guilt, and Music, p. 691; October 1, 2005, Keir Graff, review of The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, p. 4.
Christian Century, July 12, 2005, review of 1968, p. 122.
ETC: A Review of General Semantics, April, 2004, review of Salt, p. 169.
Geographical, December, 1999, Miranda Haines, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 70; April, 2002, Charlie Furniss, review of Salt, p. 83; August, 2004, Nick Smith, "In Conversation," p. 114.
Horn Book Magazine, November-December, 2001, Betty Carter, review of The Cod's Tale, p. 773.
Insight on the News, March 11, 2002, Amanda Watson Schnetzer, review of Salt, p. 29.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of The Cod's Tale, p. 1294; October 1, 2002, review of Choice Cuts, p. 1449; November 15, 2003, review of 1968, p. 1352; January 15, 2005, review of Boogaloo on Second Avenue, p. 75.
Library Journal, July, 1997, Mary J. Nickum, review of Cod, p. 118; October 1, 1999, Marie Marmo Mullaney, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 110; October 1, 2000, Joshua Cohen, review of The White Man in the Tree, p. 149; December, 2001, Michael D. Cramer, review of Salt, p. 162; December, 2002, Wilda Williams, review of Choice Cuts, p. 164; January, 2004, Karl Helicher, review of 1968, p. 131; December 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Boogaloo on Second Avenue, p. 88; February 1, 2005, Kevin Greczek, review of Boogaloo on Second Avenue, p. 105.
Nation, February 9, 2004, Robin Blackburn, review of 1968, p. 30.
Natural History, March 2002, Raymond Sokolov, review of Salt, p. 98.
New Criterion, April, 2000, Alexander Coleman, "Life in Basqueland," p. 85; December, 2000, letter to the editor from the author, p. 87.
New Statesman, May 24, 2004, Edwina Currie, review of 1968, p. 49.
New Yorker, November 8, 1999, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 92.
New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1999, Alan Riding, "The Home of Jai Alai: A History of the Basques from Their Ancient Culture to Their Modern Struggle for Independence," p. 9; January 7, 2001, Bob Shacochis, "Missed Connections: Stories Set in the Caribbean Look at Things That Get Lost in Translation," p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, November 29, 1991, review of A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny, p. 39; October 10, 1994, review of A Chosen Few, p. 57; June 9, 1997, review of Cod, p. 31; August 30, 1999, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 60; November 1, 1999, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 50; September 25, 2000, review of The White Man in the Tree, p. 89; October 9, 2000, John F. Baker, "Mark Kurlansky: 'Cod' Star Turns to Fiction," p. 68; September 3, 2001, review of The Cod's Tale, p. 88; November 19, 2001, review of Salt, p. 56; November 4, 2002, review of Choice Cuts, p. 80; December 8, 2003, review of 1968, p. 56, and Martin Schneider, "From Cod to Salt to … 1968," p. 57; September 26, 2005, review of The Big Oyster, p. 71.
Report on Business Magazine, February, 2002, review of Salt, p. 95.
Smithsonian, May, 1998, Richard Wolkomir, review of Cod, p. 134; April, 2000, Robert Wernick, review of The Basque History of the World, p. 35.
Spectator, May 1, 2004, Jonathan Mirsky, review of 1968, p. 35.
Whole Earth, fall, 1998, Allston James, review of Cod, p. 33.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (March 20, 2006), review of Salt.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 20, 2006), Jesse Kornbluth, review of 1968.
Eclectica Magazine Home Page, http://www.eclectica.org/ (June 4, 2001), Ann Skea, review of Cod.
New York State Writers Institute Home Page, http://www.albany.edu/ (March 20, 2006), "A Conversation with Mark Kurlansky."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Online, http://www.stltoday.com/ (January 9, 2004), Harry Levins, review of 1968.