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Cod : A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802713262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802713261
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.8 x 19 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,386,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

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Format: Paperback
I never know what interesting book I might read next. In my pattern of alternating personal books with library books, my library tastes are all over the Dewey map. I could read a book by Duran Duran's bassist then follow it up with a book about cod. Yes, as in Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. I had already read two books by Kurlansky. The first was The Basque History of the World from 1999 which was long before I started to write reviews. Earlier this year I read Salt: A World History from 2002. Cod predates them both, as it was written in 1997. I could see the thematic similarities in each of the three books, and now that I have read Cod, I could tell how Kurlansky progressed first from writing about the fish, then to Basque traditions which included fishing for cod, and finally to the method that the Basques used in order to preserve the fish: salt.

Kurlansky is an excellent storyteller, who can make a school of fish seem like a hot topic. I could not put Cod down, and read the book from cover to cover, including the final chapter devoted to forty pages of cod recipes. The addition of recipes is typical of Kurlansky, as I recall Salt had recipes and The Basque History of the World featured many from the Basque kitchen. Cod played a vital role in the advancement of trans-Atlantic exploration. Who living in North or South America today would have thought that cod would be the reason they are there now? For it was because of dried and salted cod that crews could sustain themselves across long oceanic passages.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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