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Publishers Weekly, 2005-09-26 Here's a chatty, free-wheeling history of New York City told from the humble perspective of the once copious, eagerly consumed, now decimated eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginicas). 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. When the Dutch arrived, the estuary of the lower Hudson, with its rich confluence of rivers, contained 350 square miles of oyster beds-"fully half of the world's oysters." The huge oyster stores contributed mightily to the mercantile wealth and natural renown of New Amsterdam, then inherited by the British, who were crazy about oysters; pickled oysters became an important trade with British West Indies slave plantations. While cheap, oysters appealed equally to the rich and poor, prompting famous establishments such as black-owned Downing's oyster cellar and Delmonico's (the enterprising author handily supplies historic recipes). The exhaustion of the city's oyster beds and pollution by sewage effectively eclipsed the consumption of local oysters by the 1920s, yet the lowly oyster still promotes the health of the waterways by its natural filtering system as well as indicating the purity of the water. Kurlansky's history digresses all over the place, and sparkles. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly, 2006-04-03 Who knew that New York City was once the oyster capital of the world, and that at one time it held half of the earth's supply, harvesting 700 million in 1880 alone? Or that oysters were not just a delicacy for aristocrats but also affordable, cheap even, sustenance for working folk. 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. With an authoritative yet amiable tone and sounding very much like Gene Hackman, Stechschulte delivers the information in as calm and instructive, yet wholly engaging way. The Big Oyster is a cautionary tale of man's nature, which lays waste to any exploitable resource, with conservation always a tardy afterthought. Stechschulte's fine reading entertains while educating about how New York City, once known for its oysters and concretely connected to the sea, slowly becomes an island unto itself, losing its connection to its surrounding waterways completely and, along the way, lost some of its unique identity to the name of progress. Simultaneous release with the Ballantine hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 26, 2005). (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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