My daughter Rachel, who works at Berkshire Publishing, is a great fan of audio books and has been pushing me for ages to develop some audio content. I’m thinking first of an audio version of our short bestseller This Fleeting World but it occurred to me that many of our historical articles and biographies might make wonderful audio “singles” or podcasts.
I chose “Salt” because it’s an intriguing story, written by a famous historian, and because the original article was included in Berkshire’s Encyclopedia of World History thanks to Rachel herself. She was a quiet little girl and used to come with me to visit William H. (Bill) McNeill at his home in Colebrook, Connecticut. One winter afternoon we were talking and Rachel was sitting on footstool next to the hearth, poking at the fire and reading a book. Bill started talking about salt and told me about, amongst other things, the taxation of salt during the Tang dynasty. Only on the way home did I discover that she had stopped reading and instead been absorbed by the story you will hear now.
Did you know, for example, that, “Salt manufacture and distribution became a major source of tax income for the Chinese government and helped to sustain China’s political cohesion across subsequent centuries. The scale and technical efficiency of salt mining in Szechwan was unmatched elsewhere. Indeed it should be recognized as the largest industrial complex on Earth before steam engines permitted the rise of Manchester and Birmingham in England after 1780”?
Thanks for listening!