Who knew that the oyster played an important part in the history of New York City? Obviously Mark Kurlansky does, and in
The Big Oyster, he tells us how. At one point, it's estimated that half the world's oysters lived in the Hudson River estuary, over 350 square miles of oyster beds. Oyster consumption crossed all class lines, even available from pushcart vendors. Oysters provided employment and fortunes were made exporting the oyster to the rest of the nation. With accompanying historic recipes, maps, drawings, and photos, Mark Kurlansky shows the parallels between the fate of the oysters and the history of the city. Eventually, the flow of raw sewage into the river killed off the oyster beds. The sweet smell provided by the oysters had replaced by the stench of civilization. The Big Oyster has received mostly positive reviews with the San Francisco Chronicle saying, "Kurlansky's point that 'the history of New York oysters is a history of New York itself -- its wealth, its strength, its excitement, its greed, its thoughtlessness, its destructiveness ... its filth' is bright, original and convincing, unlike the ballyhoo of civic boosters claiming that the waterway has returned to health."