The Big Oyster

Mark Kurlansky |  Fiction, 2006

307 pages


A Review in two words: discombobulated and boring.   I finished it only because it is a book club read.  I kept telling myself I “should” enjoy this more.  The title, The Big Oyster, is a play on the nickname, The Big Apple, which is a dead giveaway about the topic of this book.  While I adore oysters, Kurlansky’s book is really the story of the history of New York, which is among the more boring topics I can think of.

A number of professional reviewers gave it high ratings. But I also like to peruse Goodreads, which is filled with reviews by regular people, not book reviewers.  The Big Oyster has a pretty low overall rating on Goodreads, at 3.9.   The readers who liked it became fascinated by the topic and were pulled in.

The one, two, and three star reviews on Goodreads were very similar to my assessment.  Unfocused, with digressions stemming off from other digressions. This is more a history of New York through the lens of the oyster, than the story of the oyster itself, which would have been shorter, more pointed, less wandering. And IMHO, less boring.

The moments I DID like were the oyster recipes.  Here is a bit from one of the oldest recipes in the book, from an anonymous writer, mid-1600’s.  (Page 68).  “Shelle oystyrs into a pott and the sewe therwith.  Put thereto fayre watyr; perboyle hem.  Take hem up; put hem yn fayre watyr.  Peke hem clene.  Blaunch ...”

Clearly, I cannot recommend this book.  However, if you are fascinated by the history of New York City, you might love this book, for it tells the history in quite a unique manner.