The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

Front Cover
Random House Publishing Group, Jan 9, 2007 - History - 307 pages
191 Reviews
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.

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Better premise than execution. - Goodreads
Too many recipes, too many tangents, too stretched out. - Goodreads
Mark Kurlansky is a good writer. - Goodreads
A feat of research and engagingly written. - Goodreads
It is easy to read, but just not interesting. - Goodreads
But then the book dragged on with oyster recipes. - Goodreads

Review: The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

User Review  - Jille Natalino - Goodreads

SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE! This book was jam packed with facts, history of NY, and oyster recipes. I loved all I learned, just wish I had a higher retention level. Read full review

Review: The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

User Review  - Kathleen McRae - Goodreads

Mark Kurlansky is a good writer. He takes a subject like the oyster and weaves it into its historical context while vividly describing the historical events that surround its history Read full review


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Page 23 - This is a very good land to fall with, and a pleasant land to see. The third, the morning mystie, untill ten of the clocke; then it cleered, and the wind came to the south south-east, so wee weighed and stood to the northward. The land is very pleasant and high, and bold to fall withall. At three of the...
Page 26 - Cables length <* veil &d from the shoare. Then we weighed and went in with our "' ""'' ship. Then our Boate went on Land with our Net to Fish, and caught ten great Mullets, of a foot and a halfe long a peece, and a Ray as great as foure men could hale into the ship. So wee trimmed our Boate and rode still all day. At night the wind blew hard at the North-west, and our Anchor came home, and wee drove on shoare, but tooke no hurt, thanked bee God, for the ground is soft sand and Oze. This day the...
Page 25 - ... white salmon, which is of very good flavor, and quite as large; it has white scales; the heads are so full of fat that in some there are two or three spoonfuls, so that there is good eating for one who is fond of picking heads. It seems that this fish makes them lascivious, for it is often observed that those who have caught any when they have gone fishing, have given them, on their return, to the women, who look for them anxiously.

References to this book

About the author (2007)

Mark Kurlansky is the New York Times bestselling and James A. Beard Award—winning author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, Salt: A World History, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, and The Basque History of the World, as well as Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue (his debut novel), and several other books. He lives in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

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