The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky
History on the Half Shell

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Synopsis

Before New York City was the Big Apple, it could have been called the Big Oyster. Now 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, whose influence on the great metropolis remains unparalleled.

For centuries New York was famous for its oysters, which until the early 1900s played such a dominant a role in the city’s economy, gastronomy, and ecology that the abundant bivalves were Gotham’s most celebrated export, a staple food for the wealthy, the poor, and tourists alike, and the primary natural defense against pollution 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 island hunting ground of the Lenape Indians to the death of the 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.

Kurlansky brings characters vividly to life while recounting dramatic incidents that changed the course of New York history. Here are the stories behind Peter Stuyvesant’s peg leg and Robert Fulton’s “Folly”; the oyster merchant and pioneering African American leader Thomas Downing; the birth of the business lunch at Delmonico’s; early feminist Fanny Fern, one of the highest-paid newspaper writers in the city; even “Diamond” Jim Brady, who we discover was not the gourmand of popular legend.

With The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky serves up history at its most engrossing, entertaining, and delicious.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Mark Kurlansky

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Mark Kurlansky is an award-winning and bestselling author. His most recent book is 1968: The Year That Rocked the World.
 
Published January 9, 2007 by Random House. 336 pages
Genres: History, Cooking, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Big Oyster

Kirkus Reviews

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Kurlansky (Boogaloo on Second Avenue, 2005, etc.) takes a fresh look at the tasty, once plentiful mollusk in this stimulating, often fascinating saga.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

Publishers Weekly

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Tom Stechschulte's pairing with Kurlansky's (Salt , Cod ) ode to the heyday of the Crassostrea virginicas (the eastern oyster) is a dead-on perfect match.

Apr 03 2006 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

Publishers Weekly

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Research addict Kurlansky (Cod , etc.) starts from the earliest evidence of Lenape oyster middens, or beds, discovered by explorer Henry Hudson and others as evidence that natives enjoyed the shellfish as a delicacy, much as the Europeans did.

Sep 26 2005 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

The New York Times

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He notes the link between sex and oysters — the city's oyster houses sported red balloons, just as bordellos were marked by red lights — but he doesn't address the belief that oysters are aphrodisiacal except to note that they are high in zinc, which promotes testosterone.

Mar 05 2006 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

The Guardian

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The Big Oyster: New York in the World, A Molluscular History by Mark Kurlansky Jonathan Cape £17.99, pp307 The oyster is a strange phenomenon.

Apr 30 2006 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

The Guardian

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The Big Oyster: New York in the World - A Molluscular History by Mark Kurlansky 320pp, Jonathan Cape, £17.99 It was Mark Kurlansky who kicked off the trend for all those elegant little books on a single commodity back in the mid 1990s.

Jun 24 2006 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

Booklist Online

But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 170,000 reviews.

Mar 30 2017 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

Historical Novel Society

This book is on a most unusual theme: the history of New York, as seen in relation to the oyster beds, from Peter Minuit’s first purchase in 1626 of Manhattan and the Ellis Island oyster beds for $34, to the present day.

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Bookmarks Magazine

Bill Duryea Critical Summary Where Cod and Salt focused on individual ingredients and their place in world history, The Big Oyster constricts its focus to the role of oysters in the history of New York.

Aug 28 2007 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

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But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 170,000 reviews.

Oct 01 2005 | Read Full Review of The Big Oyster: History on th...

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