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The Basque History of the World
The Story of a Nation
Mark Kurlansky
read on August 1, 2013

We're going back to Donostia in a couple weeks, and I thought it would make sense to check out some history from the region. It always comes back to Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einsteinobservation that the more you know, the more you remember. I thought it was great - though a little bias toward the Basques (which was also reflected in reviews of the book elsewhere). Still, as usual with books like this, I was pretty surprised with the magnitude of things I was totally unaware of. Anyway, a few of the things I managed to remember...

  • Basque folks have the highest (by a lot) concentration of type-O (RH negative) blood in the world. Because of blood type mismatches, babies without similar characteristics are often miscarried (or at least were, pre WWII before modern medicine), which acted as a natural way to preserve this very pure bloodline.
  • There's a tree in Guernika of immense cultural importance that has stood for hundreds of years. I want to go see it in person. It looks pretty epic.
  • The USA gave soft support to Basque nationalists (who, fought against Franco and Hitler in WWII) but then the USA betrayed them during cold war, when Franco came out as anti-communist.
  • Franco ran a fascist regime until the mid 1970s - holy crap. I "kinda/sorta" knew that - I mean, had I seen that on a multiple choice question I think I would have gotten the right answer... but had I had to write an essay about "Which current eurozone country had a radical fascist dictator until the mid 1970s and an unstable government pretty much until you finished high school?" .. well ... let's just say the odds wouldn't have been in my favor.
  • ETA seems like a very interesting organization, I'd really like to know more about them. This book seemed very pro-Basque, (and pro-ETA), so I'd certainly be interested in hearing the other side. Obviously it's a really complicated situation. ETA killed people... though they also seemed pretty instrumental to ending the Franco regime... and since the late '90s have vowed against using violence to affect change.
  • To be considered a Basque citizen, you don't need any heritage or bloodlines from the region. To be Basque is simply to be fluent in both their language and culture. I love that.

Author Bio:

Mark Kurlansky was born in Hartford, Connecticut. After receiving a BA in Theater from Butler University in 1970, and refusing to serve in the military, Kurlansky worked in New York as a playwright, having a number of off-off Broadway productions, and as a playwright-in-residence at Brooklyn College. He won the 1972 Earplay award for best radio play of the year. He worked many other jobs including as a commercial fisherman, a dock worker, a paralegal, a cook, and a pastry chef. In the mid 1970s, unhappy with the direction New York theater was taking, he turned to journalism, an early interest–he had been an editor on his high school newspaper. From 1976 to 1991 he worked as a foreign correspondent for The International Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Based in Paris and then Mexico, he reported on Europe, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean. His articles have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The International Herald Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, Partisan Review, Harper’s, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Audubon Magazine, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Apetit and Parade. In addition to numerous guest lectures at Columbia University School of Journalism, Yale University, Colby College, Grinnell College, the University of Dayton and various other schools, he has taught a two week creative writing class in Assisi, Italy, a one week intensive non-fiction workshop in Devon, England for the Arvon Foundation, and has guest lectured all over the world on history, writing, environmental issues, and other subjects. In Spring 2007 he was the Harman writer-in-residence at Baruch College teaching a fourteen week honors course titled “Journalism and the Literary Imagination.” His books have been translated into twenty-five languages and he often illustrates them himself.