Mark Kurlansky is an interesting guy. He writes forgotten and neglected histories. My introduction to Kurlansky was Cod and what an introduction it was. You can read my blog on that book here. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll write a review of Salt – his history of this vital dietary resource.
Both Cod and Salt hinted at the influence of the Basques on the history of the New World. This little known and completely unsung people were among the first to salt cod for long term storage. They sailed the Atlantic and set up fishing camps in Nova Scotia. They fought in almost all of the major campaigns of medieval and modern Europe. And they have been universally panned by history.
Finally, I got a chance to read (or rather listen to) Kurlansky’s The Basque History of the World. It is easily one of the most interesting history books I have read in awhile. For one thing, it goes over familiar territory – the Muslim invasion of Europe in the 7th-8th centuries, the exploration of the New World, World War II – from an unfamiliar perspective. Because it is the history of the world through Basque eyes, it is a history seen from both the middle and the outside of events at the same time.
The Basques, who call themselves Euskaldunak or “speakers of Euskara”, are a fascinating people. They live in land that they have lived in for millennia and yet have never been able to call their own. They speak a language unrelated to any Indo-European language – in fact, unrelated to any known language – which may actually date from the Stone Age. They participated in virtually everything we know of as “Western Civilization” and yet are strangely isolationist. They have proven resistant to every possible form of domination and yet have also served almost every dominator who has held sway over their land.
If you get a chance, pick it up – especially if you can find it in audio format.