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Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. "Excellent ink drawings, brightened with colorful washes, illustrate incidents from the text with clarity, a flair for the dramatic, and a sense of humor." ( Booklist , starred review) "Kurlansky is a...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Fishy Recipe for History and Evolution

There's a cartoon in Matt Groening, the nine types of professors. One is the single-minded type, as in "The country that controls magnesium controls the world!" His main drawback is that he could be right. Cod sort of reminds me of that. You may not have known how important or popular this particular fish was to most of our ancestors in Western civilization, but, according Kurlansky, Cod was practically like bread. It was easy to fish, there was a ton of it, and once Europeans learned the various ways of drying it (with cold and/or salt) all people could think about was trading this staple. Yes, Kurlansky's book is single-minded, and at times you might forget this is a fish tale. When the Vikings found America, what where they looking for? And how did they manage to sustain themselves through the long ocean voyage? The answers are of course, cod. Kurlansky also has a few outlandish things to say about another favorite topic of his, the Basque, who it appears had been regularly fishing for Cod in Newfoundland long before Columbus found America. They were really good at keeping a secret, you see. Fortunately, there's a serious, or, at least more socially acceptable side, to Kurlansky's fish story. The fishing trade really is threatened. You can no longer practically walk on Atlantic cod. Even Icelanders who found their entire economy changing from one of sustenance to a first world service economy, during the two world wars, have a difficult time protecting their dwindling stock. If Aldous Huxley's grandfather, Thomas, asserted in the 19th century that cod would never become extinct, it was only because he could not imagine the rapid technological changes which would turn fishing into harvesting, and the classic practice of drying fish into freezing it, on board the fishing boats themselves. Good bye bacalao, hello fishsticks. It's a sad tale as ways of life dwindle and change, and even the very essentials of human existence that have lasted for thousands of years go unheard of by the post-industrial society. But are we really evolving into something better? Kurlansky peppers his narrative with quotes from notables throughout the ages and interesting, if often archaic, recipes.

In Cod We Trust!

The marvel of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World is that anyone could write a book this interesting about a subject so lackluster- a fish so boring that it does not even struggle when it is caught, instead allowing the fisherman to haul it up without a fight. Somehow Mark Kurlansky was able to make the codfish interesting enough that I continually drive my co-workers insane, insisting that they should read this book. Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been founded on it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it. The lowly cod really is the fish that changed the world. This book is a sober reminder of the impact of man on the environment, but it also a enjoyable and readable book filled with curious cod tidbits and a historical cross-section of odd cod recipes. In the same vein as The Perfect Storm or Longitude, this book is more entertaining than either of those maritime titles, although unlikely to be made into a movie starring George Clooney. If seeing the title Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World made you crack a smile, then you should read this book and tell your friends about it, so that they too can wonder if you're just making it up.

There's a reason it's widely recommended...

If you're one of the many people who's been caught up in the wave of highly focused historical books that have innundated our book stores, then this book is for you. Kurlansky presents the history of one of the most mundane items possible (excepting the humble potato and there's a book on that too) with an engaging and informative style. The book presents as a mix of history, current events, and recipes.It misfired at times. There is not discussion (or recommendation) regarding management of resources or planning for the future of our fisheries. And some absolute statements (such as the superiour development of Basque cod cuisine) deserve to be challenged. And Kurlansky doesn't consider the fishing history of Native Americans; although, it may be for lack of documentation (I don't know; I'm not a historian; that's why I read these things).In spite of this, it's an outstanding book. It meets the two key requirements for me in this regard; one, I recommend it to other people who report back on how much they liked it; and two, I'll read it again.Buy it. Read it. You'll probably enjoy it.

A terrific book by a first rate journalist

There are a handful of books on food and history that should be on all bookshelves and this is one of them. This slim volume by a first rate journalist is hard to classify: part history, part ecological and political cautionary tale, part cook book [a James Beard award winner!]. Several individual chapters alone are worth the price of this book: the description how cod have been caught and processed; the characterization of the cod's historical role in world trade; the authors' take on how the economic origins of the American Revolution (from the cod point-of-view of course).All in all, this exceptionally readable book is highly recommended.

Offbeat and essential

A terrific book! I had no idea that cod have played such a large role in the economic and social history of the western world. Tracing their story creates a spectacular cross-section of European and North American history. It's one of those books (rather like James Burke's Connections) that helps the reader figure out why things are the way they are, and understand the links between seemingly disparate elements of society and history. I often give my books away after reading them, but there's no way I'm parting with this one.By a lucky accident, I read Cod right after reading Kipling's Captains Courageous, which is set on a cod trawler working the Grand Banks in the 1890s. The two books reinforce each other -- one the historical summary, the other the detailed exploration of the daily life of those involved. A great combination.
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