The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

Overview

From Mark Kurlansky, the bestselling author of Cod, Salt, and Birdseye—the illuminating story of an ancient and enigmatic people

Straddling a small corner of Spain and France in a land that is marked on no maps except their own, the Basques are a puzzling contradiction—they are Europe's oldest nation without ever having been a country. No one has ever been able to determine their origins, and even the Basques' language, Euskera—the most ancient in Europe—is related to none other...

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Overview

From Mark Kurlansky, the bestselling author of Cod, Salt, and Birdseye—the illuminating story of an ancient and enigmatic people

Straddling a small corner of Spain and France in a land that is marked on no maps except their own, the Basques are a puzzling contradiction—they are Europe's oldest nation without ever having been a country. No one has ever been able to determine their origins, and even the Basques' language, Euskera—the most ancient in Europe—is related to none other on earth. For centuries, their influence has been felt in nearly every realm, from religion to sports to commerce. Even today, the Basques are enjoying what may be the most important cultural renaissance in their long existence.
Mark Kurlansky's passion for the Basque people and his exuberant eye for detail shine throughout this fascinating book. Like Cod, The Basque History of the World,blends human stories with economic, political, literary, and culinary history into a rich and heroic tale.
Among the Basques' greatest accomplishments:

  • Exploration—the first man to circumnavigate the globe, Juan Sebastian de Elcano, was a Basque and the Basques were the second Europeans, after the Vikings, in North America
  • Gastronomy and agriculture—they were the first Europeans to eat corn and chili peppers and cultivate tobacco, and were among the first to use chocolate
  • Religion—Ignatius Loyola, a Basque, founded the Jesuit religious order
  • Business and politics—they introduced capitalism and modern commercial banking to southern Europe
  • Recreation—they invented beach resorts, jai alai, and racing regattas, and were the first Europeans to play sports with balls

“A delectable portrait of an uncanny, indomitable nation.” –Newsday

“Exciting, Illuminating, and thought provoking.” –The Boston Globe

Entertaining and instructive… [Kurlansky’s] approach is unorthodox, mixing history with anecdotes, poems with recipes.” –The New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Straddling the border of southern France and northern Spain, the land of the Basques has long been home to a people who had no country of their own but have always viewed themselves as a nation. In this marvelous work of cultural history and appreciation, Kurlansky traces Basque history from pre-Roman times, when Basques worked as the mercenaries of Carthage, to the region's recent renaissance in language and arts. Along the way, he explains how the Basques came to be among Europe's first whalers, capitalists, explorers, industrialists and international traders. As he did in Cod, Kurlansky fuses political and economic history with delightful digressions into cultural and culinary traditions (several delicious recipes are included). The book is as politically loaded with opinion as it is culturally informative: Kurlansky expresses sympathy for the cause of Basque independence, arguing that many of Spain's current policies toward its Basque minority are holdovers from the repressive Franco regime. He also tends to accept the claim that the Basques "are the original Europeans," largely on the ground that Euskera, the Basque language, appears to have no linguistic relative and is likely the oldest European language still spoken. For all the ground it covers, this wildly informative work is a marvel of clarity, glittering with unusual facts and marked by penetrating insights into a people always "making complex choices about the degree of independence that was needed to preserve their way of life, while looking to the rest of the world for commercial opportunities to ensure their prosperity." 56 illustrations, 6 maps, 10 recipes. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy Agency. 5-city author tour. (Oct.) FYI: Cod received the James Beard Award for Excellence in Food Writing and was a New York Public Library Best Book of 1997. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The author of Cod, one of last year's quirkiest and most enjoyable entries, returns with a slightly less meandering but equally entertaining history of the Basques. Kurlansky brings a novelist's storytelling talents, a journalist's eye for the salient fact, and an unapologetic admiration of his subject to an episodic narrative of Europe's oldest surviving culture. (LJ 10/1/99) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A comprehensive view of all things Basque, from the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997). The Basque History of the World is an honorable title, alerting readers to its singularly Basque-centric mix of cultural studies, history, and politics. The writing is direct and accessible, although limited by the occasional descriptive cliché ("jagged mountains" and "crisp fall days"). It's most interesting when describing the periods when Basque history intersects with the history of the larger world. For example, in a section on the Spanish Civil War, Kurlansky utilizes quotes from survivors of the 1937 bombing of Guernica by Franco's forces, the first large-scale use of air power against a civilian population, to create a sense of suspense, dread, and terror. The bravery of members of the Basque underground, who helped over 700 downed Allied fliers escape from Nazi-occupied territory to England during WWII, is also depicted through compelling first-person recollections. The last third of the book, covering the post-WWII period and the radicalization of a faction of the Basque independence movement, is most problematic. While Kurlansky adeptly explains the logic for Basque autonomy and presents the most radical wings' justification for its historical use of terrorism, his analysis too often accepts the Basque view at face value and offers no independent perspective. Perhaps this is because Kurlansky is enamored of his subject, especially the Basque language, Euskera. Euskera warrants attention, as it's a unique non-Indo-European language with no known linguistic relatives. Kurlansky knows the Basques well and includes many entertaining anecdotes,myths, and facts about them, all of which reflect a quaint Basque chauvinism. According to the author, the Basque are: probably the original Europeans, the first Europeans to cultivate tobacco, the first bankers in Spain, the most devout Catholics in the world, and among the inventors of beach resorts. In its entirety, this is an informative but ethnocentric history that readers should approach with their critical faculties intact. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140298512
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 151,168
  • Product dimensions: 7.76 (w) x 5.04 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky is the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including The Food of a Younger Land, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World; Salt: A World History; 1968: The Year That Rocked the World; and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Blessed with extraordinary narrative skills, journalist and bestselling author Mark Kurlansky is one of a burgeoning breed of writers who has turned a variety of eclectic, offbeat topics into engaging nonfiction blockbusters.

Kurlansky worked throughout the 1970s and '80s as a foreign correspondent in Europe and Mexico. He spent seven years covering the Caribbean for the Chicago Tribune and transformed the experience into his first book. Published in 1992, A Continent of Islands was described by Kirkus Reviews as "[a] penetrating analysis of the social, political, sexual, and cultural worlds that exist behind the four-color Caribbean travel posters."

Since then, Kurlansky has produced a steady stream of bestselling nonfiction, much of it inspired by his longstanding interest in food and food history. (He has worked as a chef and a pastry maker and has written award-winning articles for several culinary magazines.) Among his most popular food-centric titles are the James Beard Award winner Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1997), Salt: A World History (2002), and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2006). All three were adapted into illustrated children's books.

In 2004, Kurlansky cast his net wider with 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, an ambitious, colorful narrative history that sought to link political and cultural revolutions around the world to a single watershed year. While the book itself received mixed reviews, Kurlanski's storytelling skill was universally praised. In 2006, he published the scholarly, provocative critique Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea. It received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Despite occasional forays into fiction (the 2000 short story collection The White Man in the Tree and the 2005 novel Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue), Kurlansky's bailiwick remains the sorts of freewheeling colorful, and compulsively readable micro-histories that 21st-century readers cannot get enough of.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hartford, CT
    1. Education:
      Butler University, B.A. in Theater, 1970

Read an Excerpt

"Nomansland, the territory of the Basques, is in a region called Cornucopia, where the vines are tied up with sausages. And in those parts there was a mountain made entirely of grated Parmesan cheese on whose slopes there were people who spent their whole time making macaroni and ravioli, which they cooked in chicken broth and then cast it to the four winds, and the faster you could pick it up, the more you got of it." —Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, 1352

The game the rest of the world knows as jai alai was invented in the French Basque town of St.-Pée-sur-Nivelle. St. Pée, like most of the towns in the area, holds little more than one curving street against a steep-pastured slope. The houses are whitewashed, with either red or green shutters and trim. Originally the whitewash was made of chalk. The traditional dark red color, known in French as rouge Basque, Basque red, was originally made from cattle blood. Espelette, Ascain, and other towns in the valley look almost identical. A fronton court—a single wall with bleachers to the left—is always in the center of town.

    While the French were developing tennis, the Basques, asthey often did, went in a completely different direction. The French ball was called a pelote, a French word derived from a verb for winding string. These pelotes were made of wool or cotton string wrapped into a ball and covered with leather. The Basques were the first Europeans to use a rubber ball, a discovery from the Americas, and the added bounce of wrapping rubber rather than string—the pelote Basque, as it was originally called—led them to play the ball off walls, a game which became known also as pelote or, in Spanish and English, pelota. A number of configurations of walls as well as a range of racquets, paddles, and barehanded variations began to develop. Jai alai, an Euskera phrase meaning "happy game," originally referred to a pelota game with an additional long left-hand wall. Then in 1857, a young farm worker in St. Pée named Gantxiki Harotcha, scooping up potatoes into a basket, got the idea of propelling the ball even faster with a long, scoop-shaped basket strapped to one hand. The idea quickly spread throughout the Nivelle Valley and in the twentieth century, throughout the Americas, back to where the rubber ball had begun.

    St. Pée seems to be a quiet town. But it hasn't always been so. During World War II the Basques, working with the French underground, moved British and American fliers and fleeing Jews on the route up the valley from St.-Jean-de-Luz to Sare and across the mountain pass to Spain.

    The Gestapo was based in the big house next to the fronton, the pelota court. Jeanine Pereuil, working in her family's pastry shop across the street, remembers refugees whisked past the gaze of the Germans. The Basques are said to be a secretive people. It is largely a myth—one of many. But in 1943, the Basques of the Nivelle Valley kept secrets very well. Jeanine Pereuil has many stories about the Germans and the refugees. She married a refugee from Paris.

    The only change Jeanine made in the shop in her generation was to add a few figurines on a shelf. Before the Basques embraced Christianity with a legendary passion, they had other beliefs, and many of these have survived. Jeanine goes to her shelf and lovingly picks out the small figurine of a joaldun, a man clad in sheepskin with bells on his back. "Can you imagine," she says, "at my age buying such things. This is my favorite" she says, picking out a figure from the ezpata dantza, the sword dance performed on the Spanish side especially for the Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi. The dancer is wearing white with a red sash, one leg kicked out straight and high and the arms stretched out palms open.

    Born in 1926, Jeanine is the fourth generation to make gâteau Basque and sell it in this shop. Her daughter is the fifth generation. The Pereuils all speak Basque as their first language and make the exact same cake. She is not sure when her great grandfather, Jacques Pereuil, started the shop, but she knows her grandfather, Jacques's son, was born in the shop in 1871.

    Gâteau Basque, like the Basques themselves, has an uncertain origin. It appears to date from the eighteenth century and may have originally been called bistochak. While today's gâteau Basque is a cake filled with either cherry jam or pastry cream, the original bistochak was not a gâteau but a bread. The cherry filling predates the cream one. The cake appears to have originated in the valley of the winding Nivelle River, which includes the town of Itxassou, famous for its black cherries, a Basque variety called xapata.

    Basques invented their own language and their own shoes, espadrilles. They also created numerous sports including not only pelota but wagon-lifting contests called orgo joko, and sheep fighting known as agaritalka. They developed their own farm tools such as the two-pronged hoe called a laia, their own breed of cow known as the blond cow, their own sheep called the whitehead sheep, and their own breed of pig, which was only recently rescued from extinction.

    And so they also have their own black cherry, the xapata from Itxassou, which only bears fruit for a few weeks in June but is so productive during those weeks that a large surplus is saved in the form of preserves. The cherry, preserve-filled cakes were sold in the market in Bayonne, a city celebrated for its chocolate makers, who eventually started buying Itxassou black cherries to dip in chocolate.

    Today in most of France and Spain a gâteau Basque is cream filled, but the closer to the valley of the Nivelle, the more likely it is to be cherry filled.

    Jeanine, whose shop makes nothing besides one kind of bread, the two varieties of gâteau Basque, and a cookie based on the gâteau Basque dough, finds it hard to believe that her specialty originated as cherry bread. Just as the shop's furniture has never been changed, the recipe has never changed. The Pereuils have always made it as cake, not bread, and, she insists, have always made both the cream and cherry fillings. Cream is overwhelmingly the favorite. The mailman, given a little two-inch cake every morning when he brings the mail, always chooses cream.

    Maison Pereuil may not be old enough for the earlier bistochak cherry bread recipe, but the Pereuil cake is not like the modern buttery gâteau Basque either. Jeanine's tawny, elastic confection is a softer, more floury version of the sugar-and-egg-white macaroon offered to Louis XIV and his young bride, the Spanish princess Maria Theresa, on their wedding day, May 8, 1660, in St.-Jean-de-Luz. Ever since, the macaroon has been a specialty of that Basque port at the mouth of the Nivelle.

    When asked for the antique recipe for her family's gâteau Basque, Jeanine Pereuil smiled bashfully and said, "You know, people keep offering me a lot of money for this recipe."

    How much do they offer?

    "I don't know. I'm not going to bargain. I will never give out the recipe. If I sold the recipe, the house would vanish. And this is the house of my father and his father. I am keeping their house. And I hope my daughter will do the same for me."

Chapter One

1. The Basque Myth

The Basques share with the Celts the privilege of indulging in unrivaled extravagance on the subject of themselves.
—Miguel de Unamuno quoting Ampère,
HISTORY OF FRENCH LITERATURE BEFORE
THE TWELFTH CENTURY, 1884

The Basques seem to be a mythical people, almost an imagined people. Their ancient culture is filled with undated legends and customs. Their land itself, a world of red-roofed, whitewashed towns, tough green mountains, rocky crests, a cobalt sea that turns charcoal in stormy weather, a strange language, and big berets, exists on no maps except their own.

    Basqueland begins at the Adour River with its mouth at Bayonne—the river that separates the Basques from the French pine forest swampland of Landes—and ends at the Ebro River, whose rich valley separates the dry red Spanish earth of Rioja from Basqueland. Basqueland looks too green to be Spain and too rugged to be France. The entire area is only 8,218 square miles, which is slightly smaller than New Hampshire.

    Within this small space are seven Basque provinces. Four provinces are in Spain and have Basque and Spanish names: Nafaroa or Navarra, Gipuzkoa or Guipúzcoa, Bizkaia or Vizcaya, and Araba or Alava. Three are in France and have Basque and French names: Lapurdi or Labourd, Benafaroa or Basse Navarre, and Zuberoa or Soule. An old form of Basque nationalist graffiti is "4 + 3 = 1."

    As with most everything pertaining to Basques, the provinces are defined by language. There are seven dialects of the Basque language, though there are sub-dialects within some of the provinces.

    In the Basque language, which is called Euskera, there is no word for Basque. The only word to identify a member of their group is Eushaldun—Euskera speaker. Their land is called Euskal Herria—the land of Euskera speakers. It is language that defines a Basque.

The Central Mystery Is: Who are the Basques? The early Basques left no written records, and the first accounts of them, two centuries after the Romans arrived in 218 B.C., give the impression that they were already an ancient—or at least not a new—people. Artifacts predating this time that have been found in the area—a few tools, drawings in caves, and the rudiments of ruins—cannot be proved to have been made by Basques, though it is supposed that at least some of them were.

    Ample evidence exists that the Basques are a physically distinct group. There is a Basque type with a long straight nose, thick eyebrows, strong chin, and long earlobes. Even today, sitting in a bar in a mountainous river valley town like Tolosa, watching men play mus, the popular card game, one can see a similarity in the faces, despite considerable intermarriage. Personalities, of course, carve very different visages, but over and over again, from behind a hand of cards, the same eyebrows, chin, and nose can be seen. The identical dark navy wool berets so many men wear—each in a slightly different manner—seem to showcase the long Basque ears sticking out on the sides. In past eras, when Spaniards and French were typically fairly small people, Basque men were characteristically larger, thick chested, broad shouldered, and burly. Because these were also characteristics of Cro-Magnons, Basques are often thought to be direct descendants of this man who lived 40,000 years ago.

    Less subjective physical evidence of an ancient and distinct group has also surfaced. In the beginning of the twentieth century, it was discovered that all blood was one of three types: A, B, or O. Basques have the highest concentration of type O in the world—more than 50 percent of the population—with an even higher percentage in remote areas where the language is best preserved, such as Soule. Most of the rest are type A. Type B is extremely rare among Basques. With the finding that Irish, Scots, Corsicans, and Cretans also have an unusually high incidence of type O, speculation ran wild that these peoples were somehow related to Basques. But then, in 1937, came the discovery of the rhesus factor, more commonly known as Rh positive or Rh negative. Basques were found to have the highest incidence of Rh negative blood of any people in the world, significantly higher than the rest of Europe, even significantly higher than neighboring regions of France and Spain. Cro-Magnon theorists point out that other places known to have been occupied by Cro-Magnon man, such as the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the Canary Islands, also have been found to have a high incidence of Rh negative.

    Twenty-seven percent of Basques have O Rh negative blood. Rh negative blood in a pregnant woman can fatally poison a fetus that has positive blood. Since World War II, intervention techniques to save the fetus have been developed, but it is probable that throughout history, the rate of miscarriage and stillborn births among the Basques was extremely high, which may be one of the reasons they remained a small population on a limited amount of land while other populations, especially in Iberia, grew rapidly.

    Before Basque blood was studied as a key to their origins, several attempts were made to analyze the structure of Basque skulls. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a researcher reported, "Someone gave me a Basque body and I dissected it and I assert that the head was not built like that of other men."

    Studies of Basque skulls in the nineteenth century concluded, depending on whose study is believed, that Basques were either Turks, Tartars, Magyars, Germans, Laplanders, or the descendants of Cro-Magnon man either originating in Basqueland or coming from the Berbers of North Africa.

    Or do clothes hold the secret to Basque origins? A twelfth-century writer, Aimeric de Picaud, considered not skulls but skirts, concluding after seeing Basque men in short ones that they were clearly descendants of Scots.

    The most useful artifact left behind by the ancient Basques is their language. Linguists find that while the language has adopted foreign words, the grammar has proved resistant to change, so that modern Euskera is thought to be far closer to its ancient form than modern Greek is to ancient Greek. Euskera has extremely complex verbs and twelve cases, few forms of politeness, a limited number of abstractions, a rich vocabulary for natural phenomena, and no prepositions or articles.

    Etxea is the word for a house or home. "At home" is etxean. "To the house" is etxera. "From home" is etxetik. Concepts are formed by adding more and more suffixes, which is what is known as an agglutinating language. This agglutinating language only has about 200,000 words, but its vocabulary is greatly extended by almost 200 standard suffixes. In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled from a data base of 60 million words, but English is a language with an unusually large vocabulary. It is sometimes said that Euskera includes just nouns, verbs, and suffixes, but relatively simple concepts can become words of formidable size. Iparsortalderatu is a verb meaning "to head in a northeasterly direction."

    Euskera has often been dismissed as an impossible language. Arturo Campión, a nineteenth-century Basque writer from Navarra, complained that the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defined Euskera as "the Basque language, so confusing and obscure that it can hardly be understood." It is obscure but not especially confusing. The language seems more difficult than it is because it is so unfamiliar, so different from other languages. Its profusion of ks and xs looks intimidating on the page, but the language is largely phonetic with some minor pitfalls, such as a very soft b and an aspirated h as in English, which is difficult for French and Spanish speakers to pronounce. The x is pronounced "ch." Etxea is pronounced "et-CHAY-a." For centuries Spanish speakers made Euskera seem friendlier to them by changing xs to chs as in echea, and ks, which do not exist in Latin languages, to cs, as in Euscera. To English speakers, Basque spellings are often more phonetic than Spanish equivalents. The town the Spanish call Guernica is pronounced the way the Basques write it—Gernika.

    The structure of the language—roots and suffixes—offers important clues about Basque origins. The modern words aitzur, meaning "hoe," aizkora, meaning "axe," aizto, meaning "knife," plus various words for digging and cutting, all come from the word haitz or the older aitz, which means "stone." Such etymology seems to indicate a very old language, indeed from the Stone Age. Even though the language has acquired newer words, notably Latin from the Romans and the Church, and Spanish, such words are used in a manner unique to this ancestral language. Ezpata, like the Spanish word espada, means "sword." But ezpatakada means "the blow from a sword," ezpatajoka means "fencing," and espatadantzari is a "sword dancer."

    Though numerous attempts have been made, no one has ever found a linguistic relative of Euskera. It is an orphan language that does not even belong to the Indo-European family of languages. This is a remarkable fact because once the Indo-Europeans began their Bronze Age sweep from the Asian subcontinent across Europe, virtually no group, no matter how isolated, was left untouched. Even Celtic is Indo-European. Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are the only other living European languages that are not related to the Indo-European group. Inevitably there have been theories linking Finnish and Euskera or Hungarian and Euskera. Did the Basques immigrate from Lapland? Hungarian, it has been pointed out, is also an agglutinating language. But no other connection has been found between the Basque language and its fellow agglutinators.

    A brief attempt to tie the Basques to the Picts, ancient occupants of Britain who spoke a language thought to be pre-Indo-European, fell apart when it was discovered the Picts weren't non-Indo-European at all, but were Celtic.

    If, as appears to be the case, the Basque language predates the Indo-European invasion, if it is an early or even pre-Bronze Age tongue, it is very likely the oldest living European language.

    If Euskera is the oldest living European language, are Basques the oldest European culture? For centuries that question has driven both Basques and non-Basques on the quest to find the Basque origin. Miguel de Unamuno, one of the best-known Basque writers, devoted his earliest work, written in 1884 when he was still a student, to the question. "I am Basque," he began, "and so I arrive with suspicion and caution at this little and poorly garnered subject."

    As Unamuno pointed out, and this is still true today, many researchers have not hesitated to employ a liberal dose of imagination. One theory not only has Adam and Eve speaking Euskera but has the language predating their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The name Eve, according to this theory, comes from ezbai, "no-yes" in Euskera. The walls of Jericho crumbled, it was also discovered, when trumpets blasted a Basque hymn.

    The vagaries of fact and fiction were encouraged by the fact that the Basques were so late to document their language. The first book entirely in Euskera was not published until 1545. No Basques had attempted to study their own history or origins until the sixteenth-century Guipúzcoan Esteban de Garibay. Spanish historians of the time had already claimed that Iberia was populated by descendants of Tubal, Noah's grandson, who went to Iberia thirty-five years after the Flood subsided. Garibay observed that Basque place-names bore a resemblance to those in Armenia where the ark landed, and therefore it was specifically the Basques who descended from Tubal. Was not Mount Gorbeya in southern Vizcaya named after Mount Gordeya in Armenia? Garibay traced Euskera to the Tower of Babel.

    In 1729, when Manuel de Larramendi wrote the first book of Basque grammar ever published, he asserted that Euskera was one of seventy-five languages to have developed out of the confusion at the Tower of Babel. According to Juan Bautista de Erro, whose The Primitive World or a Philosophical Examination of Antiquity and Culture of the Basque Nation was published in Madrid in 1815, Euskera is the world's oldest language, having been devised by God as the language of Adam's Paradise, preserved in the Tower of Babel, surviving the Flood because Noah spoke the language, and brought to present-day Basque country by Tubal.

    In one popular legend, the first Basque was Aïtor, one of a few remarkable men who survived the Flood without Noah's ark, by leaping from stone to stone. However, Aïtor, still recognized by some as the father of all Basques, was invented in 1848 by the French Basque writer Augustin Chaho. After Chaho's article on Aïtor was translated into Spanish in 1878, the legend grew and became a mainstay of Basque culture. Some who said Aïtor was mere fiction went on to hypothesize that the real father of all Basques was Tubal.

    Since then, links have been conjectured with languages of the Caucasus, Africa, Siberia, and Japan. One nineteenth-century researcher concluded that Basques were a Celtic tribe, another that they were Etruscans. And inevitably it has been discovered that the Basques, like so many other peoples, were actually the lost thirteenth tribe of Israel. Just as inescapably, others have concluded that the Basques are, in reality, the survivors of Atlantis.

 A case for the Basques really being Jews was carefully made by a French clergyman, the abbot J. Espagnolle, in a 1900 book titled L'Origine des Basques (The Origin of the Basques). For this theory to work, the reader first had to realize that the people of ancient Sparta were Jewish. To support this claim, Espagnolle quotes a historian of ancient Greece who wrote, "Love of money is a Spartan characteristic." If this was not proof enough, he also argues that Sparta, like Judea, had a lack of artisans. The wearing of hats and respect for elders were among further evidence offered. From there, it was simply a matter of asserting, as ancient Greek historians had, he said, that the Spartans colonized northern Spain. And of course these Spartan colonists who later became Basques were Jewish.

    With issues of nationhood at stake, such seemingly desperate hypotheses may not be devoid of political motives. "Indigenous" is a powerful notion to both the French and Spanish states. Both define their history as the struggle of their people, the rightful indigenous occupants, to defend their land against the Moors, invaders from another place, of another race, and of another religion. In Europe, this heroic struggle has long been an essential underpinning of both nationalism and racism. The idea that Basques were in their European mountains, speaking their own indigenous European language, long before the French and the Spanish, is disturbing to French and Spanish nationalists. Unless the Basques can be shown to be from somewhere else, the Spanish and French are transformed into the Moorish role—outside invaders imposing an alien culture. From the sixteenth century on, historians receiving government salaries in Madrid wrote histories that deliberately minimized the possibility of indigenous Basques.

    But the Basques like the idea, which most evidence supports, that they are the original Europeans, predating all others. If true, it must have been an isolating experience, belonging to this ancient people whose culture had little in common with any of its neighbors. It was written over and over in the records of those who observed the Basques that they spoke a strange language that kept them apart from others. But it is also what kept them together as a people, uniting them to withstand Europe's great invasions.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Island and the World

Part One THE SURVIVAL OF EUSKAL HERRIA

The Basque Cake
1: The Basque Myth
2: The Basque Problem
3: The Basque Whale
4: The Basque Saint
5: The Basque Billy Goat
6: The Wealth of Non-Nations

Part Two THE DAWN OF EUSKADI

The Basque Onomatopoeia
7. The Basque Beret
8: The Basque Ear
9: Gernika
10: The Potato Time
11: Speaking Christian
12: Eventually Night Falls

Part Three EUSKADI ASKATUTA

Slippery Maketos
13: The Great Opportunity
14: Checks and Balances
15: Surviving Democracy
16: The Nation

Postscript: The Death of a Basque Pig
The Basque Thank You
Bibliography
Index of Proper Nouns

MAPS
Basqueland's Seven Provinces
Basque Border Passes
Basque Coastline
Pilgrim Routes to Santiago
German-Occupied France
Operation Comet

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 30, 2010

    what a wonderful and well written book!

    I have to say that I am actually a Basque person myself and that I enjoyed every single word and every single page of this book: in my opinion you don't need to love the Basque people to start reading the book... but once you read the book, you cannot but help it loving us...:-)
    The book is not just a gastronomical or historical book or a travel guide of the Basque Country. Well, it could be considered to be a mixture of the above, but I would say that the book goes far beyond the specifics of depicting the Basque people: the book is more like a celebration of human identity, of our universal need of belonging to a group (any at all!!): In a nutshell the book "The Basque History of the World" is a hymn to the beauty of belonging to the human race!!!! no more, no less.
    God bless the author for that.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2007

    A captivating work of art on the Basques!!

    Mark Kurlansky's 'Basque History of the World' is perfect reading material for anyone wanting to learn more about this fascinating culture such as myself. As a first generation American of Spanish 'Galician' parentage, having travelled to Spain every year, I would always absorb negative opinions about the Basque people, largely due to ETA terrorism in addition to their controversial, seperatist principles 'as far as Madrid was/is concerned'. That is why I finally took it upon myself to purchase Mark Kurlansky's fine work which in turn has shed new light on a proud and progressive people. Thanks to Mr. Kurlansky's meticulous research and captivating text, I admire the Basques now more than I ever did, and as a result, most of the criticism, if not all, which I had absorbed about them in the past suddenly evaporated. I must say, as a person of Galician heritage, I truly sympathize now with their principles and beliefs. Galicians, like the Basques and Catalans, have always yearned to be autonomous and free since Galicians, like their brothers to the east and southeastern Spain, consider their language and culture to be unique as well. Of course, there was one minor flaw in the book: during the Spanish Civil War, Mr. Kurlansky states that the Civil Guard and the Assault Guards immediately sided with Franco's cause. NOT COMPLETELY TRUE. The Civil Guards, absolutely, since this police organization maintained perspectives of an ideologically ultraconservative nature it was founded in 1844 for the purpose of suppressing workers' strikes and against the poor, as well as fighting banditry. The Assault Guards,on the other hand, Mr. Kurlansky, were a different story. First of all, they were the Second Republic's creation, established on May 1931, one month after the proclamation of the II Spanish Republic. They were designed as an alternative to the civil guards, excercising the democratic principles of a Western democracy's police force. At the outbreak of the civil war, over 80% of the Guardias de Asalto remained loyal to the Republic. In fact, they protected all government establishments against Franco's military aggression, played a major role in arming workers in various industrial cities, and ultimately became integrated in the Spanish republican Ejercito Popular ''People's Army or Popular Army''. I was a bit offended at this flaw because we had a relative back in 1936 who was an Assault Guard and the first thing my father remembered as a kid was watching him join the workers in the barricades to stave off the Fascist troops and yes, the accompanying Civil Guards. I would recommend that Mr. Kurlansky look more thoroughly into the history of the Spanish Civil War. All this aside, however,Mark Kurlansky's work is hitherto the best authority on the history of the Basque people,their majestic culture,beautiful, breath-taking lands and exquisite cuisines!! Bravo, Don Kurlansky!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2006

    SPANISH PROJECT

    Mark Kurlansky has written a very informative and interesting introduction to a little known people. He wrote this book at a good time, the reason why it¿s not very popular is probably because of its easy treatment of ETA violence. Kurlansky does support the ETA ( Basque for ¿ Basque Homeland and Freedom) which is considered by many as a terrorist group. I can see why it would be easy to become so attached to the Basques and their culture, their language, and the ongoing fight they have pursued in order to keep their culture intact. People deserve to keep their history, heritage, language, and cuisine, and the Basques have a long, rich, and misunderstood history which deserves the kind of recognition Kurlansky's book brings to their cause, wherever his sympathies lie. The beginning of this book talks about pre-roman, roman and the middle ages through the eyes of the Basques. It also talks about their reported origin and interesting facts about their genealogical makeup (40% of Basques have type-O blood) but there are no true answers. There is random recipes spilled through-out the book that I can¿t imagine anyone actually trying to do but they are interesting to read. The middle of the book slows down as Kurlansky gives special attention to the plight of the Basques during World War II, especially the bombing of Guernica, and the rise of Franco to power. He gets extremely into this part of the book. You can feel his love for the Basques as he puts his all into every page that describes these peoples struggle against Franco. At the end the book slows down once again as Mark states his opinion on recent Basque events. Most notably the ETAs terrorist attacks against the Spanish government. That¿s the part when many people lose their respect for this book. He supports many of these terrorist attacks. But please don¿t let these events make you intolerant towards the Basques. The Basque people have survived centuries of misfortune and conflict, and I think it is much better to look at the everyday people rather than ETA extremism. At the core of the book is a theme or more accurately a question: Are the Basques the oldest Europeans and is Euskera the oldest living language. Euskera is considered (along with Icelandic) one of or the hardest language there is. This caused other peoples to islolate the Euskera speakers who in turn left to themselves to themselves. They became expert whalers and fishermen, the world's first capitalists, industrialists and the first modern bankers in Spain. They were also superb ship builders in fact it was them who built the Nina, Pint and Santa Maria. Most of Columbus¿s crew was Basque and the same goes for Magellan. The 1700s was the changing period in Basque history. In the 1700s, the Basque traditional laws, the Fueros were made illegal, followed by the abolition of traditionally held land, also seemed to change things. A main character in the history of Basque nationalism was Sabino Arana, who invented words to create a nation, in language only, for the Euskera speaking people. In the Basque language, which is called Euskera, there is no word for Basque. The only word to identify a member of their group is Euskaldun which means Euskera speaker. Their land is called Euskal Herria which means the land of Euskera speakers. It is language that defines a Basque. Arana wanted to change this by making a new word-Euskadi-to give their region a name. I would recommend this book to people who take an interest in history, cuisine and terrorism. I liked most of this book but the rest were mainly Kurlanskys opinion on Basque nationalism which in my opinion he can keep to himself. So all in all I guess I would say it¿s a good book but thanks Kurlansy throwing his opinion around its not a great book, but it does get the job done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2004

    If only it was based on reality

    I enjoyed this book until I reached the last chapters. These last chapters (20th century) offer a very biased account of Spanish and Basque history. Misrepresentations range from mere embellishments about Basque contributions, to suspicious omissions (e.g. the most unpopular actions of the Basque ETA are not mentioned), to outright falsehoods, even about facts that can be easily checked online (e.g. the results of the Spanish Constitutional referendum of 1978 in Catalonia and Galicia, Maastricht and the EU, and so on in a long list). All in all, I am disappointed because a case for Basque independence can be made without resorting to falsehoods. If you are really interested in Spanish and Basque history in the 20th century I suggest Raymond Carr and Paul Preston, both of them recommended by Kurlansky in the appendix (I wonder if he ever read their books). Another anecdote that bothered me is his account of Elcano's role in the mutiny against Magellan. Grab Bergreen's 'Over the Edge of the World' for a truthful and well documented account of the event.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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