Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ghost Maps and Basques

I have been on a nonfiction reading kick lately. I finished up The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, which is full of interesting, morbid facts like where sewage went in pre-sewer Victorian times in London (into people's cellars, the Thames, and drainage ditches that leaked into wells). It's actually about how the spread of cholera was finally traced to contaminated water. Which is ironic because the only way to survive cholera is to stay hydrated.

Last week I started listening to The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky on my iPod (thanks, ListenNJ) and therefore have no idea how far along I am in the book (lest I lose my place), except we're up to the 1500s. Basque is one of the few non- (and therefore pre-) Indo-European languages in Europe, along with Finnish and Hungarian. The Romans hired Basques as mercenaries, and they also were great whalers. Kurlansky says that Basque ships' supplies of dried cod were so much greater than what their local coasts would have provided that they may have been fishing very close to what is now the U.S. way before other explorers reached it.

I recommend them both.

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