The Big Oyster : A Molluscular History of New York, Paperback

The Big Oyster : A Molluscular History of New York Paperback

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


When Peter Minuit bought Manhattan for $24 in 1626, he showed his shrewdness by also buying the oyster beds off tiny, nearby Oyster Island, renamed Ellis Island in 1770.

From the Minuit purchase until pollution finally destroyed the beds in the 1920s, New York was a city known for its oysters, especially in the late 1800s, when Europe and America enjoyed a decades-long oyster craze.

In a dubious endorsement, William Makepeace Thackeray said that eating a New York oyster was like eating a baby.

Travellers to New York were also keen to experience the famous New York oyster houses.

While some were known for their elegance, due to a longstanding belief in the aphrodisiac quality of oysters, they were often associated with prostitution.

In 1842, when the novelist Charles Dickens arrived in New York, he could not conceal his eagerness to find and experience the fabled oyster cellars of New York City's slums. "The Big Oyster" is the story of a city and of an international trade.

Filled with cultural, social and culinary insight - as well as recipes, maps, drawings and photographs - this is history at its most engrossing, entertaining and delicious.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Social & cultural history
  • ISBN: 9780099477594



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

I've been really happy with Kurlansky's writing in the past, and this was no exception - he really has a great knack for picking a seemingly small topic and expanding upon it. Even if you don't care about oysters or New York, this is a great read.

Review by

Oyster-centric account of NY, most interesting for the descriptions of the pre-European flora and fauna, and the early exploitation of the resource—both by colonists and Native Americans. A few small biological bloopers, like referring to “the Ostrea edulis”, makes me trust the the recipes more than the zoology. But I found there were rather more recipes than I could really use, and skipped them. The final pollution and extirpation of the beds makes the history end a little prematurely.

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