Not an Op Shop book, but one I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time. Mark Kurlansky’s Basque History of the World is very well written and researched. I’ve been vaguely interested in this group of people for a while – I think I may even have done an assignment about them in early high school – and it certainly fits into my love of fairly obscure history. No Basque would thank me for saying that, I guess, but what I mean is that it is obscure in terms of the generally understood history of the world. The Basques as a nation do not seem to have had a huge impact on the world (although after reading this, I will passionately argue anyone who says that): to most people, they wouldn’t even seem to be a nation, since you can’t look up Basqueland on an average map and find defined borders. But, Kurlansky points out, they have had a huge impact – particularly on France and Spain (he concentrated mostly on the latter), and also on the rest of Europe and, consequently, the world. Who set up the Jesuits? That would be St Ignatius – or Ignatius de Loyola, a Basque, just to name one. Many of the other Basques who have had an impact are not acknowledged by name anywhere much, but their impact is certainly felt.
I love that Kurlansky included recipes in this book: although I don’t think I’ll ever use one (not knowing where I might find baby eels, and not being sure that I’d like to eat them anyway), it adds powerfully to the fact that this is a history of a people, who are still alive and very much kicking, rather than just being an academic look at some isolated, irrelevant people.
I really liked Kurlansky’s Salt, and I must get around to finding me his Cod.