Hot Best Seller

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

Availability: Ready to download

Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky tells the remarkable story of New York by following the trajectory of one of its most fascinating inhabitants–the oyster. For centuries New York was famous for this particular shellfish, which until the early 1900s played such a dominant a role in the city’s life that the abundant bivalves were Gotham’s most celebrated export, a staple fo Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky tells the remarkable story of New York by following the trajectory of one of its most fascinating inhabitants–the oyster. For centuries New York was famous for this particular shellfish, which until the early 1900s played such a dominant a role in the city’s life that the abundant bivalves were Gotham’s most celebrated export, a staple food for all classes, and a natural filtration system for the city’s congested waterways. Filled with cultural, historical, and culinary insight–along with historic recipes, maps, drawings, and photos–this dynamic narrative sweeps readers from the seventeenth-century founding of New York to the death of its oyster beds and the rise of America’s environmentalist movement, from the oyster cellars of the rough-and-tumble Five Points slums to Manhattan’s Gilded Age dining chambers. With The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky serves up history at its most engrossing, entertaining, and delicious.


Compare

Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky tells the remarkable story of New York by following the trajectory of one of its most fascinating inhabitants–the oyster. For centuries New York was famous for this particular shellfish, which until the early 1900s played such a dominant a role in the city’s life that the abundant bivalves were Gotham’s most celebrated export, a staple fo Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky tells the remarkable story of New York by following the trajectory of one of its most fascinating inhabitants–the oyster. For centuries New York was famous for this particular shellfish, which until the early 1900s played such a dominant a role in the city’s life that the abundant bivalves were Gotham’s most celebrated export, a staple food for all classes, and a natural filtration system for the city’s congested waterways. Filled with cultural, historical, and culinary insight–along with historic recipes, maps, drawings, and photos–this dynamic narrative sweeps readers from the seventeenth-century founding of New York to the death of its oyster beds and the rise of America’s environmentalist movement, from the oyster cellars of the rough-and-tumble Five Points slums to Manhattan’s Gilded Age dining chambers. With The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky serves up history at its most engrossing, entertaining, and delicious.

30 review for The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    The title of The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell is a nod to The Big Apple and could very well be considered a solid stand-alone history of New York itself. Mark Kurlansky's book titles do not get the reader's blood pumping: Salt Nonviolence Cod You'd half expect to fall asleep before finishing the intro. But keep pushing on and you'll find a highly enjoyable read filled with interesting facts. Seriously, Kurlansky can make oysters and cod interesting. That's impressive! The Big Oyster takes u The title of The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell is a nod to The Big Apple and could very well be considered a solid stand-alone history of New York itself. Mark Kurlansky's book titles do not get the reader's blood pumping: Salt Nonviolence Cod You'd half expect to fall asleep before finishing the intro. But keep pushing on and you'll find a highly enjoyable read filled with interesting facts. Seriously, Kurlansky can make oysters and cod interesting. That's impressive! The Big Oyster takes us through the history of the oyster, its life cycle, its biology and its importance to mankind.* That last topic mainly focuses on North America's relationship with the oyster and more specifically New York city's, for Manhattan and this particular shellfish are particularly linked in growth and decline. It doesn't seem to matter if you're a Wall Street fat-cat or a loincloth-wearing native, humans used and abused the little buggers. Though I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of both (with a great section on the "Gangs Of New York" Five Points area), it's the whens, hows, wheres, and what fors that make truly make The Big Oyster a fascinatingly good read! * FUN FACT: Did you know pearls do not come from oysters?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lorna

    The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky was a delightful look at the history of not only the oyster but of New York City. I don't even like oysters (there is something about the rawness of the experience), but I thought this book was so interesting, complete with many recipes in addition to a well-researched history that gave me a lot more insight. I have become such a fan of Mark Kurlansky and his offbeat research into the obscure staples of our lives that we just take for g The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky was a delightful look at the history of not only the oyster but of New York City. I don't even like oysters (there is something about the rawness of the experience), but I thought this book was so interesting, complete with many recipes in addition to a well-researched history that gave me a lot more insight. I have become such a fan of Mark Kurlansky and his offbeat research into the obscure staples of our lives that we just take for granted, such as salt, cod, and of course, oysters. "Oysters were true New Yorkers. They were food for gourmets, gourmands, and those who were simply hungry; tantalizing the wealthy in stately homes and sustaining the poor in wretched slums; a part of city commerce and a part of international trade."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    I’m a big old History nerd, and I loved that this book was as much about the History of New York, as it was about oysters. Kuslansky, as usual hits a pretty great balance between basic Science, and Cultural History in this story, about the luxury shellfish of the modern world (which I have never eaten and probably never will.) Now I know more about oysters than I ever expected to, thanks to this interesting read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    The Big Oyster: A Molluscular History of New York [2006] – ★★★★★ “The history of New York oysters is a history of New York itself – its wealth, its strength, its excitement, its greed, its thoughtlessness, its destructiveness, its blindness and – as any New Yorker will tell you – its filth. This is the history of the trashing of New York, the killing of its great estuary” [2006: xvi], so begins this marvellous non-fiction book by Mark Kurlansky, who is also the author of such popular books as Cod The Big Oyster: A Molluscular History of New York [2006] – ★★★★★ “The history of New York oysters is a history of New York itself – its wealth, its strength, its excitement, its greed, its thoughtlessness, its destructiveness, its blindness and – as any New Yorker will tell you – its filth. This is the history of the trashing of New York, the killing of its great estuary” [2006: xvi], so begins this marvellous non-fiction book by Mark Kurlansky, who is also the author of such popular books as Cod [1997] and Salt [2002]. The Big Oyster tells the story of the city of New York through the prism of once one of its most famous and prized commodities – its unparalleled oysters. Currently, New York is known for its skyscrapers, its shopping and its business (among other things), but for a long time in history when you thought of New York, you first thought of its delicious and plentiful oysters [2006: xvii]. There was, indeed, a time when New York was known for its “sweet air”, enviable water and tidal systems, and its marine produce, especially its oysters. Through engaging historical accounts, literary anecdotes, culinary recipes and some of the most famous New Yorkers, Kurlansky tells a story of New York like you have never read or known it before and one we should never forget, especially in today’s ever-rising environmental and climate change concerns. Mark Kurlansky starts his account with the year 1609, when “Henry Hudson, a British explorer employed by the Dutch, sailed into New York Harbour….” [Kurlansky, 2006: 4]. The area surrounding present-day New York was a different world back then: settled by native Lenapes, who also consumed oysters, and abundant in natural beauty and resources. Kurlansky paints New York as viewed by the first Dutch settlers (it was called New Amsterdam) and talks about the harvesting of oysters by the native population and the Dutch. The author then talks about the increasing “commercialisation” of oysters in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries when New York was already British. At that point New York was slowly turning into “the leading American city for oyster and alcohol consumption” [2006: 65]. The book talks of the many taverns in the city that opened to sell their cheap and unparalleled oysters, as well as details the state of oysters during the American Revolution, and how increased travel and technological developments, such as the invention of steamboats and railroads, affected New York’s oysters. One of the great things about Kurlansky’s book is that it is never a dry historical account. He talks about the nature and unique characteristics of oysters, whose predecessors emerged in the Cambrian period 520 million years ago, and demonstrates the various uses of oysters through changing culinary traditions. There are many recipes in the book, and, as we read the mouth-watering descriptions, there is also much “linguistic” trivia to be found and we can discover how some of the most famous streets in New York got their names. Washington Irving, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe all had their say on the ways of Manhattan, and on the nature and popularity of oysters; the inclusion of their illuminating accounts is also what makes The Big Oyster such a great book. There is definitely much in the book about the economic or business side of oysters production, and it is interesting to get to know that once oysters were the very synonym of poverty (they were so cheap!). Then rolls the year 1830, and people started thinking about recreating oysters because they had disappeared from some New York areas due to the increased industrialisation. Kurlansky is right to point out that “little is learned about a species until it is faced with extinction” [2006: 114]. Oysters became better known at that point and the commercial battles for them have started. They became overharvested because they were also shipped in very large quantities abroad. The book’s final pages are dedicated to the topic of the eradication of oysters from their natural habitats around New York City because of many factors, including the rapidly growing population that meant the growth of unhealthy slums, uncontrolled and inconsiderate garbage dumping (including sewage problems), and the demand for good-quality oysters that could hardly be met (let alone the link of oysters to dangerous diseases because of the increasingly polluted waters). The increased industrialisation of the 1870s meant the slow disappearance of a species that called New York City its home for such a long time. The Big Oyster is an engaging, quirky historical account of one of the most famous cities in the world told through the story of once one of the most misunderstood salt-water mollusc. Both informative and fun, the short book is a very transportive experience that clearly demonstrates that important role of oysters in the history of New York City. As Kurlansky concludes, “the great and unnatural city was built at the site of a natural wonder…the lowly oysters working at the bottom were a treasure more precious than pearls” [2006: 280]. It is hard not to agree with Kurlansky upon finishing this book. Oysters should have been cherished and preserved, not least because they act as water filters and do nature much good. These seemingly unassuming “shells” are, in fact, complicated living organisms and New York was their home where they felt the best.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    I must say I had rather high expectations for this book. I rather liked one of Kurlansky's earlier books - Cod - and how wrong could you go with a follow up about "the remarkable story of New York by following one its most fascinating inhabitants - the oyster"? Alas, to my chagrin, the blurb for the book was a tad misleading. The Big Oyster starts out promisingly enough with its description of New York as a veritable Eden of oysters. According to the estimates of some biologists, NY Harbour "con I must say I had rather high expectations for this book. I rather liked one of Kurlansky's earlier books - Cod - and how wrong could you go with a follow up about "the remarkable story of New York by following one its most fascinating inhabitants - the oyster"? Alas, to my chagrin, the blurb for the book was a tad misleading. The Big Oyster starts out promisingly enough with its description of New York as a veritable Eden of oysters. According to the estimates of some biologists, NY Harbour "contained fully half of the world's oysters" and the Dutch called Ellis Island and Liberty Island Little Oyster Island and Great Oyster Island because of all the "sprawling oyster beds that surrounded them". And apparently Manhattan and its environs were strewn with shell middens - at Pearl Street (which got its name from the middens), the Rockaway Peninsula (with a particularly large one in the Bayswater section of Far Rockaway) - now covered by railroad tracks, roads, docks, etc. But NYC was apparently more than just an Eden of oysters. It was Eden, period. Looking at Manhattan today, it's a little bizarre to read the excerpts from the letters of early Dutch travellers and settlers, who described Manhattan as a land with fine meadows, woodlands, and burgeoning wildlife both on land and in the water. Unfortunately, the Big Oyster starts to flag about a third of the way into the book. Kurlansky appears to run out of material that will allow him to convincingly weave the story of the oyster together with the history of New York. Instead, he starts to cram the book with random factoids of oysters and NY (the two tenuously but not necessarily related): food markets in Manhattan in the 18th century sold oysters! Here are some recipes for oysters that people used to cook back in the day! During the civil war, they fed the troops with oysters! Some famous people back in the day used to love oysters and would eat them in NY! Kurlansky could just as easily have (and possibly more convincingly) written a book about Meat and New York City; food markets in Manhattan in the 18th century sold meat! During the civil war, they fed the troops with meat! Some famous pp back in the day used to love steak and would eat it in NY! ooh - there's also the Meatpacking District! On the whole, I'd only recommend this book to those who are food lit devotees AND who love anything to do with Manhattan. Otherwise, you might want to save your time and shelf space for other worthier reads.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liesl Gibson

    I started this book completely fascinated, and really did learn a great deal about oysters and the history of New York. Lots of great trivia and fascinating bits that I'm glad to know and that help other bits fall into place in my mind. But about halfway through, the book just starts to discintegrate. This should either have been a much shorter and really great New Yorker article or it needed a good editor to give it some strong organization. It's all over the place and feels a bit like the auth I started this book completely fascinated, and really did learn a great deal about oysters and the history of New York. Lots of great trivia and fascinating bits that I'm glad to know and that help other bits fall into place in my mind. But about halfway through, the book just starts to discintegrate. This should either have been a much shorter and really great New Yorker article or it needed a good editor to give it some strong organization. It's all over the place and feels a bit like the author pushed it out as fast as he could after pouring over stacks of books at the library. Those lovely index cards full of worthwhile details would have benefited from a bit of thought while pulling them together.

  7. 4 out of 5

    jersey9000

    By the man who wrote Salt and Cod, both awesome books that use the aforementioned products to trace out the development of the world itself, comes another book along the same wonderful lines, but this one with a narrower focus: the oyster beds of New York City. I found this to be a fascinating read, and it gave me lots of insight into New York that I didn't even know I was lacking. I was born and Raised in New Jersey, and I was astounded by how little I knew about the history and evolution of NY By the man who wrote Salt and Cod, both awesome books that use the aforementioned products to trace out the development of the world itself, comes another book along the same wonderful lines, but this one with a narrower focus: the oyster beds of New York City. I found this to be a fascinating read, and it gave me lots of insight into New York that I didn't even know I was lacking. I was born and Raised in New Jersey, and I was astounded by how little I knew about the history and evolution of NYC before reading this book. Wonderfully told, equal parts science, history, and a philosophical examination of man's relationship with nature- if you liked the other two, read this. If you never read the other two, read this anyway :)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave & Lindsay Gurak

    History of Oysters in NYC Grist detail around how prominent oysters have been in the history of New York City. Lots of interesting stories and facts that often slip through the cracks in traditional story telling. Highly recommend!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Better premise than execution. An overview of New York history as seen through the oyster (or, better, the history of the oyster as seen through the lens of one city). Its great moments come from some fun historical oddities--e.g., the discovery of a new oyster bed is such major news that it makes the front page of the NYT. It sent me running to the Oyster Bar for a feed but otherwise didn't live up to my expectations. Better premise than execution. An overview of New York history as seen through the oyster (or, better, the history of the oyster as seen through the lens of one city). Its great moments come from some fun historical oddities--e.g., the discovery of a new oyster bed is such major news that it makes the front page of the NYT. It sent me running to the Oyster Bar for a feed but otherwise didn't live up to my expectations.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ill D

    The Big Oyster traces the intertwined history of oysters and the city of New York. From the earliest Dutch colonial settlements all the way to to the end of the 19th (20th+ including the epilogue) century, these bivalve’d delicacies have filled bellies, made fortunes, and according to Kurlansky, built the world’s most central entrepot. Generally, well written and equally well researched a highly enjoyable book that delicately pleases eyes and brain alike is the result. However, not all is good he The Big Oyster traces the intertwined history of oysters and the city of New York. From the earliest Dutch colonial settlements all the way to to the end of the 19th (20th+ including the epilogue) century, these bivalve’d delicacies have filled bellies, made fortunes, and according to Kurlansky, built the world’s most central entrepot. Generally, well written and equally well researched a highly enjoyable book that delicately pleases eyes and brain alike is the result. However, not all is good here. Like too many cooks spoiling the proverbial pot, a plethora of oyster-based recipes, well exceeding the number 50+ mars a more pleasing flow and only ends up polluting a more seamless read (this would’ve been so much more effective if collected as an appendix). Additionally, a loss of steam that pitter patters across the last 50 some pages due to loss of focus, is compounded by an unusually anti-anthropic note in the epilogue that does nothing more than catalogue the environmental destruction of concerning the waterways of New York. Ending things on a less than positive note won’t exactly do wonders for your final thoughts. In either case, this is a fun little read that can supply your reading needs for a short holiday. Enjoy raw or cooked.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Teresa McTigue

    I was disappointed in this book, despite loving his previous writing. It's more of a rapid fire history of New York City with a little bit of oyster lore throw in here and there. Large sections have no relation to oysters, oystering, or the oyster industry at all. It was even boring in parts, which lead to me taking so long to read it. I was disappointed in this book, despite loving his previous writing. It's more of a rapid fire history of New York City with a little bit of oyster lore throw in here and there. Large sections have no relation to oysters, oystering, or the oyster industry at all. It was even boring in parts, which lead to me taking so long to read it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Since this promised to cover the history of one of my favorite cities through the cultivation of one of my favorite foods, I was intrigued. Started out well, but I felt the author may have been scrambling for material in order to fill out the pages. Still, it was fun reading up to a (blue) point.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tobi

    I really enjoyed this book. It is about the history of New York City as much as it is the history of the oyster.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gabriela Saade

    This book found me in a indie bookstore and I cannot be more satisfied with it. This is a book about history, economics, and biology. Kurlansky, brilliantly, tells the story of the City of New York through its magnificent oysters, which were the subject of infinite admiration by the Indians, the Dutch, the British, and ultimately the world. This is also a story of rents and competitive positions: a story of how the port of New York was a key determinant in her unplanned and inimitable developmen This book found me in a indie bookstore and I cannot be more satisfied with it. This is a book about history, economics, and biology. Kurlansky, brilliantly, tells the story of the City of New York through its magnificent oysters, which were the subject of infinite admiration by the Indians, the Dutch, the British, and ultimately the world. This is also a story of rents and competitive positions: a story of how the port of New York was a key determinant in her unplanned and inimitable development and growth. I enjoyed this book so much for its uniqueness. And for the many facts that trace the story of a city loved by Dickens and hated by Thoreau (something I also learned from the book)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    3.5 Mark Kurlansky likes to take a subject (like salt, cod, or even oysters) and after thoroughly researching, divulge all of the details in a historical background. Kurlansky instructs the reader in all things relating to oysters in New York. He does touch on oysters grown in other locations, like the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay where I grew up seeing crews of small wooden work boats using large tongs to dredge up oysters. I would have liked to have heard a little more about modern day o 3.5 Mark Kurlansky likes to take a subject (like salt, cod, or even oysters) and after thoroughly researching, divulge all of the details in a historical background. Kurlansky instructs the reader in all things relating to oysters in New York. He does touch on oysters grown in other locations, like the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay where I grew up seeing crews of small wooden work boats using large tongs to dredge up oysters. I would have liked to have heard a little more about modern day oyster men and their stories. It is hard work in hard conditions: I grew up crabbing with my brothers and cousins, but we never tried tonging for oysters. Evidently, tourists can participate, but I have never seen this: Kurlansky supplies many recipes and almost makes me think I might like to eat them again. Oysters Rockefeller: Kurlansky then launches into the problem of the heavily polluted waters of New York. That was in back of my mind throughout this book. The oyster is a natural filtration system for the water, but the New York waters were too polluted and the oysters themselves contained dangerous chemical toxins. The effort to clean up the waters and oysters is discussed, but you won't see me eating any raw oysters! Cheers! I bet this guy had a few beers first!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hester

    Typical Kurlansky, in that he uses a very small topic to explore very big themes. I did not know that oysters used to be the food of the poor, that New York used to be a major oyster producer, and that the typical New York eatery was an oyster saloon. New York harbor used to be filled with oysters, until they were killed off by pollution and overharvesting. The pollution, however, is from about a hundred years ago. As the Hudson becomes cleaner, the oysters are very slowly coming back. If they e Typical Kurlansky, in that he uses a very small topic to explore very big themes. I did not know that oysters used to be the food of the poor, that New York used to be a major oyster producer, and that the typical New York eatery was an oyster saloon. New York harbor used to be filled with oysters, until they were killed off by pollution and overharvesting. The pollution, however, is from about a hundred years ago. As the Hudson becomes cleaner, the oysters are very slowly coming back. If they every return in their previous numbers, then they will be able to keep the harbor clean. The book tries to make a case for oysters being complicated. While Kurlansky doesn't come out and say it, he strongly hints that oysters can feel pain. They do not. They have a nervous system, but not a central nervous system. I wish he had been clearer about this, because I was racked with guilt for eating raw oysters. My brother and I like to talk about starting an oyster farm together, and all those dreams would have died if oysters could feel pain. Shame on you, Mark Kurlansky! Kurlansky is best when he describes social history, like how bad life was in Five points. He also describes pockets of New York that were scandalous for being integrated. Much of our modern lives would have been scandalous in the past; any woman dining alone was assumed to be a prostitute. Ladies' clubs formed because there was nowhere women could go by themselves or with a couple friends. At one point, Kurlansky describes a European bakery shocking New York because the owner's wife worked the cash register, which meant she was allowed near the money. Insanity! It is so easy to forget how far we have come, and how much farther we have to go. I think bringing back the oysters is a good goal. Before my brother and I start our farm, I want to read a history of oysters in the Chesapeake!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I just gave up on finishing this book. And I hate not finishing a book. I so wanted to keep reading. But I found myself looking around the subway for something more interesting to entertain me every time I picked it up. This is definitely not a page turner, like some of the other reviews suggest. Maybe if you're a history buff, but otherwise, no. It's interesting and there are tons of little tidbits about New York City and how this metropolis came to be what it is today (both due and not due to I just gave up on finishing this book. And I hate not finishing a book. I so wanted to keep reading. But I found myself looking around the subway for something more interesting to entertain me every time I picked it up. This is definitely not a page turner, like some of the other reviews suggest. Maybe if you're a history buff, but otherwise, no. It's interesting and there are tons of little tidbits about New York City and how this metropolis came to be what it is today (both due and not due to the early oyster trade), which is why I decided to read it in the first place. All the first 100 pages really did for me was take me back to my 10th grade U.S. History class. I'm interested in New York's history but not in so much depth. I would have liked to finish for the sole purpose of furthering my education on NYC history, but there was just not enough substance to keep me interesting. Right now I have a list of other books that I'd rather read. I've heard his earlier books are better reads.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Samira

    An inherent problem with being a historian reading popular history is that there is a bunch of exposition in most popular histories that I already know, and so I often find that popular American history can drag a bit. While that was sometimes true of The Big Oyster, it was very easy to skim those sections and Kulansky's writing style and use of language are so entertaining that I did not really mind. I had no idea there was so much to say about a food that has always struck me as salty snot on An inherent problem with being a historian reading popular history is that there is a bunch of exposition in most popular histories that I already know, and so I often find that popular American history can drag a bit. While that was sometimes true of The Big Oyster, it was very easy to skim those sections and Kulansky's writing style and use of language are so entertaining that I did not really mind. I had no idea there was so much to say about a food that has always struck me as salty snot on a half shell or a bit of brine, deep fried. I was fascinated by how central oysters were to New York identity. It was also deeply depressing to read about their fall to pollution (though not really a surprise that the New York Harbour is vile) and to know that because of heavy metals, there is little to do about it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Seán

    Not as encyclopedic as advertised, and definitely the literate foodie/gourmand has more to profit by than the historian, but an enjoyable read nevertheless that makes one pang for lost oyster cellars, the Washington Market, and all-night ferries. Kurlansky cites him a few times, but I suggest anyone really interested in knowing about the Black Staten Island oystering community, the oystering legacy of the South Shore of Strong Island, and the withering of New York Harbor fisheries of every strip Not as encyclopedic as advertised, and definitely the literate foodie/gourmand has more to profit by than the historian, but an enjoyable read nevertheless that makes one pang for lost oyster cellars, the Washington Market, and all-night ferries. Kurlansky cites him a few times, but I suggest anyone really interested in knowing about the Black Staten Island oystering community, the oystering legacy of the South Shore of Strong Island, and the withering of New York Harbor fisheries of every stripe should consult with the best: Joseph Mitchell.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Yeah right. How is a book on the history of oysters going to be interesting? But it's not only interesting -- it's fascinating and wonderful. Kurlansky is a great food writer (Salt and Cod are among his titles) but he has a brilliant sense of culture and NYC history as well. Oysters were a primary economy to New York; particularly in Five Points. Before the NY waters became so polluted (and remember that oysters are bottom-feeders) people came from all over the world -- notably Cas. Dickens -- ju Yeah right. How is a book on the history of oysters going to be interesting? But it's not only interesting -- it's fascinating and wonderful. Kurlansky is a great food writer (Salt and Cod are among his titles) but he has a brilliant sense of culture and NYC history as well. Oysters were a primary economy to New York; particularly in Five Points. Before the NY waters became so polluted (and remember that oysters are bottom-feeders) people came from all over the world -- notably Cas. Dickens -- just to get them fresh. Science, history, and culinary delights (and horrors -- raw oysters are still alive when you eat them) await, not to mention good humor and writing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    I'm a big fan of Kurlansky's work, and this book did not disappoint. Being a Native New Yorker, the destruction of the New York estuaries is a sad story, but hopefully one that is not permanent. I will warn potential readers that consuming oysters may never be the same experience for you again after reading this book. I'm a big fan of Kurlansky's work, and this book did not disappoint. Being a Native New Yorker, the destruction of the New York estuaries is a sad story, but hopefully one that is not permanent. I will warn potential readers that consuming oysters may never be the same experience for you again after reading this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shawna

    Awesome book. It is more than just about oysters! Lots of tidbits on food and general history of NYC and NJ. Definitely will be in my top 10 of 2014. Chapter headings and acknowledgement are also super word-nerdy funny. He thanks caffeine! Haha!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Heather Page

    Love love love this book. Interesting information about oysters in general and awesome history of NYC in relation to oysters. I work downtown Manhattan, so the history is this book was great for me. Highly recommend this book!!!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ameya Warde

    This author wrote "Salt" which is the book that got me hooked on micro-histories, which, along with loving NYC, is why I picked up this book, despite being a vegetarian who has never (TG) eaten any kind of seafood of any sort and is very happy about it. I did tune out when he read off recipes or particularly gruesome bits (I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT RAW OYSTERS ARE ALIVE AND PEOPLE ARE EATING LIVING ANIMALS, OMG. D: ), but I thought it was a really interesting book, and I enjoyed seeing the history of This author wrote "Salt" which is the book that got me hooked on micro-histories, which, along with loving NYC, is why I picked up this book, despite being a vegetarian who has never (TG) eaten any kind of seafood of any sort and is very happy about it. I did tune out when he read off recipes or particularly gruesome bits (I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT RAW OYSTERS ARE ALIVE AND PEOPLE ARE EATING LIVING ANIMALS, OMG. D: ), but I thought it was a really interesting book, and I enjoyed seeing the history of the city through such a specific lens (I have previously read the history of Bellevue as well which was similar, except through the lens of NYC hospitals instead of oysters..). Worth reading for anyone interested in NYC history or seafood or microhistories!

  25. 4 out of 5

    R.

    Cool early culinary history of NYC and oysters in particular. I’d be interested in how some of these proletarian foods like lobster or classless foods like oysters (and good lord fish and chips in the UK is sometimes seemingly so expensive for what they are) become upscale. This book alludes to it being supply and demand as oysters became so much less common due to pollution and overfishing but I bet there are more factors at play.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark Fallon

    The history of New York as you've never read it before. Doubles a tale of caution as we continue to treat our natural world as an infinite resource. The history of New York as you've never read it before. Doubles a tale of caution as we continue to treat our natural world as an infinite resource.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sean Kelley

    This sort of felt like they didn't have enough content. There were long digressions about things that were tangentially related to oysters in NY, but also digressions off those digressions. I think I would've liked something more focused, and also was maybe a little more focused on the ecological story of the destruction of NYC's oyster population. This sort of felt like they didn't have enough content. There were long digressions about things that were tangentially related to oysters in NY, but also digressions off those digressions. I think I would've liked something more focused, and also was maybe a little more focused on the ecological story of the destruction of NYC's oyster population.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Clark Hays

    Commerce, consumption and the end of an era Awhile back, I read The Oyster: The Life and Lore of the Celebrated Bivalve to learn how oysters reproduce. Apparently, I developed a little crush on the bivalves -- not in the gastronomical sense; I’ve never eaten one -- because when I saw The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlanksy in an airport bookstore, I snatched it up. It’s an entirely fascinating account of the evolution of New York from under-populated backwater wilderness to the bustling world capital of Commerce, consumption and the end of an era Awhile back, I read The Oyster: The Life and Lore of the Celebrated Bivalve to learn how oysters reproduce. Apparently, I developed a little crush on the bivalves -- not in the gastronomical sense; I’ve never eaten one -- because when I saw The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlanksy in an airport bookstore, I snatched it up. It’s an entirely fascinating account of the evolution of New York from under-populated backwater wilderness to the bustling world capital of today (easy Paris, it’s just one of the many) as seen through the rise and fall of oysters -- both as source of commerce and item of (over)consumption. Kurlanksy also wrote 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, which I liked, and Salt: A World History, which I loved, and it follows a similar pattern, using a quirky single subject to dissect history and bring it to life. In Salt, his scope was global, but in The Big Oyster, it was narrowly focused on New York -- with a few excursions in time (to ancient Greece) and place (London, Paris, etc.). The author has found a style that works for him and does a masterful job of weaving together an oyster-based narrative (how often can you use that qualifier?). I haven’t spent too much time in New York, but even as a casual visitor I got a guilty thrill when a street name suddenly made sense or I recognized some historic figure -- like Dickens -- noshing oysters in a dimly lit oyster house cheek to jowl with rough necks and prostitutes. Ultimately, this book feels like a cautionary tale, tracing the degradation of habitat that ultimately destroyed the oyster beds -- along with a significant line of business -- and changed the eating habits of an entire city. I’m not sure even the best, most long-sighted urban planning could have preserved the pristine waters and farmlands of New York as it grew into a behemoth, filled with millions and spitting toxins and waste into the once clear, bio-diverse waters, but it’s certainly fun to think about. The only criticism I have is the page space spent on historic recipes. It was interesting enough to see the changing writing and cooking styles from the earliest days of America to the present, but once or twice would have been fine. Since the scope was less culinary, I would rather have seen more of the historic details and his unique insights and less about the care and cooking of oysters. That’s just me being greedy though. This is a fast-paced, engaging and rewarding read filled with “oh, that’s why!” moments, so if you like oysters, or New York or history well-done, give this a try.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Much of the charm of this sort of monograph lies in judicious wandering off the main topic and back... and in that regard I have to admit I found Kurlansky rather heavy-handed. He's grimly focused on a single storyline: New York City was built on top of shit-tons of oysters, but a classic tragedy of the commons has left the Big Oyster with nary a namesake to call its own. For light relief, he reprints numerous old oyster recipes -- and you know, there aren't THAT many fundamentally different way Much of the charm of this sort of monograph lies in judicious wandering off the main topic and back... and in that regard I have to admit I found Kurlansky rather heavy-handed. He's grimly focused on a single storyline: New York City was built on top of shit-tons of oysters, but a classic tragedy of the commons has left the Big Oyster with nary a namesake to call its own. For light relief, he reprints numerous old oyster recipes -- and you know, there aren't THAT many fundamentally different ways to cook oysters. Bounty, recipe, overharvesting, recipe, pollution, recipe, culminating in oystergeddon... that's pretty much your outline right there. It's a shame because there are so many obviously alluring narrative loops that could have adorned this topic. Just some things I wondered as I was reading: * Turns out that the European oyster of art and literature (Ostrea edulis) and the American/Asian oyster (Crassostrea) are not just different species but different genera. How, why, ker-what? Did they have a recent common ancestor that went extinct, or did they somehow evolve separately? The Atlantic is so much smaller than the Pacific... why does the genus line split there? Lay some science on us, yo! * For many centuries, oysters and fowl were considered a supernal culinary pairing... but it's a taste that seems to have died out except in certain Thanksgiving stuffing recipes. How does a foodway go from the top of the heap to oblivion so quickly? * Why DO different oysters taste so different? Is the taste more affected by variety, or by whatever the piscine version of "terroir" is? * What would it even mean to have a "natural" oyster bed when apparently humans have been oyster farming in all the major areas for over a century, and have consequently imported foreign species all over the world? * Is oysters rockefeller the definitive New York oyster dish? If so, how come it makes no appearance here? The best and most relaxed parts of this book are the sections on oyster harvesting and cultivation. The worst and tensest parts are when Kurlansky gets on some kind of weirdly moralistic "oysters up, cities down" high horse.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Koelker

    A good read. I liked Mark Kurlansky's other book "Cod" a whole lot, and have had an interest in the oyster industry lately as a resident of the Florida Panhandle. When I saw this, I purchased it without looking into it too much and didn't even realize it was 'New York City' focused until I started reading, though in hindsight the title probably should've clued me in. The geographic focus of this book is 95% New York, 4% Britain/France, and 1% other, if you are curious. No mention of Apalachicola A good read. I liked Mark Kurlansky's other book "Cod" a whole lot, and have had an interest in the oyster industry lately as a resident of the Florida Panhandle. When I saw this, I purchased it without looking into it too much and didn't even realize it was 'New York City' focused until I started reading, though in hindsight the title probably should've clued me in. The geographic focus of this book is 95% New York, 4% Britain/France, and 1% other, if you are curious. No mention of Apalachicola oysters, to my disappointment. The history is all pretty interesting. I learned a lot, and that's what matters most with this sort of book. As Mark Kurlansky did with "Cod", it's all delivered in a way that doesn't feel like slogging through your high-school or college text books. My only real gripe is that the book indulges in a few too many tangents which are only related back to oysters in the flimsiest of ways. Charles Dickens overstays his welcome. Actress Lillian Russel gets a number of pages, I guess because... she ate some oysters? As did apparently every other citizen of New York. 125 oysters per person annually, in fact; one of many things you will learn in this book. So I'm not so sure what made her special and worth discussing in the context of oysters. There are a handful of these moments throughout, but they are minor nitpicks. If you like history or environmentalism, this is worth your time. If you are looking for new oyster recipes and can decipher ye olde english, this is also worth your time.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...