Kurlansky has a strange niche for himself as the chronicler of the underdog. He writes about Jews, fishermen, salt farmers and, in this book, the Basque people. Strangely, all of these stories intersect in odd ways which you only discover once you have read them all. This book is likemany of his others, he describes the thing by writing short, readable chapters about its composite parts and somehow winds up describing a whole. This is a difficult task in this book because the Basque people can be described so many ways and have such a rich and complicated history. Their culture predates the nations in which they live and while they have lent much of their business and industrial talents, they seem to have gotten very little in return.
Kurlanky goes to Basque country and meets people and describes what he finds. He goes back in time to many of the turning points in Basque history, from the early whalers in the 1500’s to Guernica during World War Two. He descibes rituals and politics and while it is clear which side he is usually on -- as the champoin of the underdog, natch -- he manages to give the appearance of a balanced presentation. The facts are rich, the citations varied and the overall effect is one of actually getting to know a people, not simply reading a history book about them.