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Cod: A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World [Paperback]

Mark Kurlansky
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 16 1998
Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas? Cod -- frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hardtack. What was the staple of the medieval diet? Cod again, sold salted by the Basques, an enigmatic people with a mysterious, unlimited supply of cod.

Cod is a charming tour of history with all its economic forces laid bare and a fish story embellished with great gastronomic detail. It is also a tragic tale of environmental failure, of depleted fishing stocks where once the cod's numbers were legendary. In this deceptively whimsical biography of a fish, Mark Kurlansky brings a thousand years of human civilization into captivating focus.

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Product Description

From Amazon

You probably enjoy eating codfish, but reading about them? Mark Kurlansky has written a fabulous book--well worth your time--about a fish that probably has mattered more in human history than any other. The cod helped inspire the discovery and exploration of North America. It had a profound impact upon the economic development of New England and eastern Canada from the earliest times. Today, however, overfishing is a constant threat. Kurlansky sprinkles his well-written and occasionally humorous history with interesting asides on the possible origin of the word codpiece and dozens of fish recipes. Sometimes a book on an offbeat or neglected subject really makes the grade. This is one of them. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In this engaging history of a "1000-year fishing spree," Kurlansky (A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny, LJ 1/92) traces the relationship of cod fishery to such historical eras and events as medieval Christianity and Christian observances; international conflicts between England and Germany over Icelandic cod; slavery, the molasses trade, and the dismantling of the British Empire; and, the evolution of a sophisticated fishing industry in New England. Kurlansky relates this information in an entertaining style while providing accurate scientific information. The story does not have a happy ending, however. The cod fishery is in trouble, deep trouble, as the Atlantic fish has been fished almost to extinction. Quoting a scientist from the Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, Massachusetts, Kurlansky notes that to forecast the recovery of the cod population is to gamble: "There is only one known calculation: 'When you get to zero, it will produce zero.'" Highly recommended for all general collections.?Mary J. Nickum, Bozeman, Mont.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book. About cod. Feb. 11 2002
Hmmm... not sure I can explain why I wanted to read this book. I mean, its about cod. A fish. And a rather unimpressive-looking one at that. I don't even know where or when I heard about this book, but I did sometime, at someplace, and whatever it was I heard really made me want to read it. I do know that the American right to the cod fisheries of the Grand Banks was an important part of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution. So maybe that's why I picked it up. To be honest, I just don't know.
Verdict: Its a very good book. About cod. Honestly, it wasn't the best book I've ever read, but for Kurlansky to have held my attention for 220+ pages on the subject of a fish is a fairly remarkable feat.
The cod fish seems to have had a fin in all sorts of historical events. According to Kurlansky, one of the deciding factors in the Pilgrims having chosen Massachusetts as their landing spot is because they envisioned that there would be good fishing off of an arm-shaped land formation called "Cape Cod." I would have sworn that I read somewhere that the Pilgrims first intended to land in Virginia and were blown off-course to Plymouth Bay by pure accident... but I could be mistaken. And besides, the term "Virginia" in the early 17th century could have applied to just about the entire Eastern Seaboard of North America. So either way, Kurlansky could still be right.
Another startling example of the cod-that-changed-the-world philosophy is in Iceland, which relied so heavily on the fish that it had three wars with England - actually called the "Cod Wars" - over the matter. And that was just in the last century, between 1956 and 1977. Sure, no one was killed, but a lot of mean words were thrown about and fishnets cut.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's the little things that surprise you Feb. 2 2002
If I hadn't read Mark Kurlansky's Cod, I wouldn't have known the vital role cod played in the settlement of North America. If not for cod, America might have never declared its independence. Cod was an important element in the facilitation of the slave trade. All news to me until I read Cod. (Well, until I read A Cod's Tale, which led me to read the full version.)
Cod reminds us that human beings are a connected part of our ecosystem. Too often, I think we perceive some sort of separation between us and so-called "nature." We are either concerned with or disregard our impact on the rest of the system, but we overlook how that system impacts on us. Mr. Kurlansky shows the human side of the equation. and how a lack of concern for the totality of our environment will eventually come back and bite us in the rear. We see how the reduction of the cod population has impacted on the world's fishing industry, and, more importantly, on the individuals who make up that industry.
Cod is an extremely well-done history book, detailed and easy to read. More importantly, it is clearly relevant to contemporary readers, demonstrating how the cycle of cause-and-effect continues to this day.
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That description of the cod by Mark Kurlansky is not exactly a ringing endorsement; still it's better than what is said of us. Man is "an open-mouthed species even greedier than cod." COD goes on to prove this point by telling the history of this fish. The author looks at the best days of the cod fishing industry - between the 16th and 18th centuries when 60% of all fish eaten in Europe was cod - to the current situation where fishing ports such as Gloucester, Mass., are nothing near what they used to be. Indeed by the time of the Revolution, "in the minds of its most hard line revolutionaries, the New England radicals", the cod-fishing industry, according to Mr Kurlansky, had made the Revolution as much about making money as it was about political freedom. He goes on to say that "one of the greatest obstacles to restoring cod stocks off of Newfoundland is an almost pathological collective denial of what has happened."

The history goes back even further, to the f!irst century AD when the Vikings set sail from Norway through Iceland, to Greenland, Canada, and perhaps New England. It's not a coincidence that this is the exact range of cod, nor is it surprising that after the Vikings, the Basques became well known as cod fishers. We see the beginnings of Mr Kurlansky's admiration for these intrepid sailors from the Iberian peninsula; an interest that led him to write THE BASQUE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

It's only fitting that such a quirky fish would produce historical anomalies such as the fact that in one of the places named for it - Cape Cod - nowadays you will be hard pressed to find any sign of its past. Also reconcile how cod, which, unlike man has never traveled to the Caribbean, has nevertheless become the main part of Jamaica's delicious national dish - ackee and saltfish. Speaking of food; Mr Kurlansky, in making his book as odd as cod, and as interesting as its history, throws in some recipes that you can try for yourself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars In Cod We Trust! June 28 2001
By Steph
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good book about WHY we lost all the cod.
Published 1 month ago by Klaus Molthagen
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb read full of interesting facts about the fish so ...
Superb read full of interesting facts about the fish so central to medieval and early modern history. Read more
Published 2 months ago by William
5.0 out of 5 stars regard lucide sur l'etat des stocks de morue.
this book anticipate the sad future of many animals and fish species.(atlantic salmon, snow crab,northern whale (narwal)
it is a great book written by a great author.
Published on Oct. 13 2011 by caribou
4.0 out of 5 stars A short and sweet little book that will educate you as well
A short, not overly belabored overview of the history of cod fishing and the politics and economic factors that impact the situation to this day. Read more
Published on Feb. 14 2011 by Rodge
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and informative , but ...
This book is another interesting and informative, but narrow subject history book of the type this author prefers to write. In some sections it poses as a cookbook. Read more
Published on June 16 2004 by J. head
5.0 out of 5 stars What a dish!
This book has to be one of the most entertaining history texts in, well, history. I couldn't put it down. What a joy!
Published on Nov. 20 2002 by Jill Bernard
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fish story
If you enjoy popular nonfiction such as The Perfect Storm, Longitude, or A Walk in the Woods, you'll enjoy this book. Read more
Published on May 14 2002 by Ken Zirkel
1.0 out of 5 stars beware with explosive fish
Originality and patriotism are good things. Cod and his fishing also is. But that definitely isn't by nothing good it's to say that Basques are a special and almost unique race in... Read more
Published on March 12 2002 by Carlos Vazquez Quintana
3.0 out of 5 stars Let's Kill All the Cod
"Cod the Fish etc." is a breezy informative read especially for those interested in some of the driving forces to early trade patterns between the continent, new world and West... Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2002 by Jack Nagy
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Fish Story!
A book about a fish? Who knew?
I had no idea how BIG a role the simple cod played in literally reshaping the globe. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2002 by "mbcycle1"
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