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Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997)

by Mark Kurlansky

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,714573,638 (3.91)154
Cod spans a thousand years and four continents. From the Vikings, who pursued the codfish across the Atlantic, and the enigmatic Basques, who first commercialized it in medieval times, to Bartholomew Gosnold, who named Cape Cod in 1602, and Clarence Birdseye, who founded an industry on frozen cod in the 1930s, Mark Kurlansky introduces the explorers, merchants, writers, chefs, and of course the fishermen, whose lives have interwoven with this prolific fish. He chronicles the fifteenth-century politics of the Hanseatic League and the cod wars of the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. He embellishes his story with gastronomic detail, blending in recipes and lore from the Middle Ages to the present. And he brings to life the cod itself: its personality, habits, extended family, and ultimately the tragedy of how the most profitable fish in history is today faced with extinction. From fishing ports in New England and Newfoundland to coastal skiffs, schooners, and factory ships across the Atlantic; from Iceland and Scandinavia to the coasts of England, Brazil, and West Africa, Mark Kurlansky tells a story that brings world history and human passions into captivating focus. The codfish. Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious than gold. Indeed, the codfish has played a fascinating and crucial role in world history.… (more)
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» See also 154 mentions

English (55)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (57)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
Fascinating. Everything you could possibly ever want to know about cod. ( )
  CatherineMachineGun | Jul 31, 2020 |
Didn't think I would like it, but a friend pushed it on me. Glad he did. ( )
  ShaneBX | Feb 4, 2020 |
This is a brief survey of the management of the Atlantic Cod fishery since the Middle Ages. I'm sure that there will be a revised edition bringing the story forward to 2019 from 1997, when this book was finished. The acidification of the oceans and the gradually warming waters may lead Mr. Kurlansky to a revised edition. As it stands it is a good exploration of how humans try to manage a declining resource. His prose is solid, and his picture is moving. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 7, 2019 |
I often enjoy reading "microhistories": non-fiction that focuses on one very narrow subject but manages to tie that subject into much larger aspects of history and society. I think this may be one of the first books that really popularized this particular subgenre, back in 1997, which is what made it interesting to me. In this case, the narrow subject the book revolves around is the humble codfish, which, it turns out, has indeed played a massive role in human history, as well as telling us some important things about the effect of humans on the natural world today. It's decently written and informative (and also contains a large number of cod-related recipes from many different times and places, if that's something you're into). I will admit that, as someone who has very little inherent interest in fish -- I don't even eat them very much -- I sometimes had a little trouble staying entirely engaged even as I fully recognized the scope and importance of the subject, but I hardly feel like I can complain that a book about fish was a little too much about fish for me. ( )
1 vote bragan | Apr 23, 2019 |
I've enjoyed a number of Kurlansky's books, such as his ones on oysters, and on salt; this rather goes with them in some respects. It's an examination of the business of fishing cod, and how it affected the history of Europe and the United States, including the exploration of the New World. It's written in a light and entertaining style, and Kurlansky obviously enjoyed writing this. I think you'll enjoy reading it. Recommended. ( )
  EricCostello | Jan 6, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kurlansky, MarkAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Björkegren, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Löfgren, MikaelPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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These are the fishermen who stand sentry over the cod stocks off the headlands of North America, the fishermen who went to sea but forgot their pencil.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Do not combine Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World with A Cod's Tale. A Cod's Tale is a much shorter, illustrated version of Cod aimed at children.
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