Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mark Kurlansky

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

The Big Oyster is a book every New Yorker, amateur historian, and oyster lover should want to read. It will not let them down, but I do wonder what the small set of people who fall outside these groups will think. The history of New York is fascinating, interspersed with colorful characters and anecdotes that make history so entertaining. There is probably too great an importance placed on oysters, but what the hell, I'll bite.

Novices will probably find the many simple and complex oyster recipes a bit tedious, but then again, they might produce some converts. I am one of those who believes the best oyster recipe is also the simplest: Shuck and eat. Sure a splash of tabasco or lemon is great, horseradish and wasabi add a nice bite, grilled and roasted oysters have a certain character to them, and fried oysters are delicious, but nothing beats a freshly shucked briny oyster swallowed whole from the shell.

By the end, you definitely get the point: New York is an oyster town that destroyed its capacity for oysters through polution and gluttony. The book though, suffers the same fate as most books like it that explore history through one small prism, it gets repetitive. There are lots of moments like this:

And do you know what was at the bottom of the civil war? Thats right...OYSTERS!

All in all, a very entertaining read, highly recommended for people who love the subjects and a little less so for those who don't.

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