The Big Oyster

History on the Half Shell

Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
“Part treatise, part miscellany, unfailingly entertaining.”
–The New York Times

“A small pearl of a book . . . a great tale of the growth of a modern city as seen through the rise and fall of the lowly oyster.”
–Rocky Mountain News

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.
For centuries New York was famous for this particular shellfish, which until the early 1900s played such a dominant a role in the city’s life that the abundant bivalves were Gotham’s most celebrated export, a staple food for all classes, and a natural filtration system 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 seventeenth-century founding of New York to the death of its 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. With The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky serves up history at its most engrossing, entertaining, and delicious.

“Suffused with [Kurlansky’s] pleasure in exploring the city across ground that hasn’t already been covered with other writers’ footprints.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Fascinating stuff . . . [Kurlansky] has a keen eye for odd facts and natural detail.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Kurlansky packs his breezy book with terrific anecdotes.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Magnificent . . . a towering accomplishment.”
Associated Press


A Molluscular Life

Obviously, if you don’t love life, you can’t enjoy an oyster.
—Eleanor Clark, The Oysters of Locmariaquer, 1959

In 1609, when Henry Hudson, a British explorer employed by the Dutch, sailed into New York Harbor on his eighty-five-foot ship, Halve Maen, with...
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Advance praise for The Big Oyster

“In his portrait of the once-famous oyster beds of New York Harbor, Kurlansky beautifully illustrates food’s ability to connect us deeply to our particular place in the world, and shows how our nourishment is so vitally tied to the health of the natural world.”
–Alice Waters

“Mark Kurlansky has done it again. The Big Oyster is a zesty love song to a bivalve and a city–intelligent, informative, and impossible to put down.”
–Nathaniel Philbrick, National Book Award—winning author of In the Heart of the Sea

Praise for Mark Kurlansky

1968: The Year That Rocked the World

“Memorable, essential, and in its own way wondrous.”
–The Boston Globe

Salt: A World History

“Bright writing and, most gratifyingly, an enveloping narrative.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

“This eminently readable book is a new tool for scanning world history.”
–The New York Times Book Review

From the Hardcover edition.