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Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting and the Discovery of the New World Paperback – 1 Mar 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (1 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465022855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465022854
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 296,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Fish on Friday is an enormously erudite, enjoyable and well-written pioneering journey into a world that all too few histories touch upon... Brian Fagan is justly renowned for is immensely readable books on the human past. Fish on Friday is by far his best." Times Higher Education Supplement "Fagan gives us a real flavour of life at the time (literally - there are recipes here). Over generations, he argues persuasively, fishermen pushed ever further westward across the Atlantic, the unassuming "advance guard" of European exploration in North America." The Scotsman"

About the Author

Brian Fagan is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he has written many internationally acclaimed popular books about archaeology, including The Little Ice Age, Floods, Famines, and Emperors, and The Long Summer. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Interesting book but its not about what the dust jacket says it is about 13 Aug. 2011
By Amante Distoria - Published on Amazon.com
This is an interesting book by an author who never fails to tell an engaging story about whatever subject or period of time he tackles. However, the story in the book is not what the book's title suggests, and is certainly not the story promised by whoever wrote the copy on the dust jacket. This book is NOT about the discovery of North America by European fishermen. It is about the economic history of the fishing industry and trade in Western Europe from the late Roman period into the early modern age.

We get lots of information about the dietary needs of medieval society, and from what sources they got their fish imports, and how the trade in dried or salted fish impacted trade routes throughout Northern Europe. We learned how abundant fish catches made some towns wealthy, and that depleted fisheries spelled economic trouble for mainland cities that depended on them. We learned how changing climate impacted the abundance or scarcity of various species of fish. We learn about advances in ship technology and improvements in the methods for drying and salting caught fish. And only then, after two-thirds of the book has gone by, does the author set aside a single chapter to consider the question of whether European fishermen preceded Columbus' in discovering North America.

Brian Fagan is one of my favorite authors and I'm surprised I don't love this book as much as any of his others. But unfortunately, one gets the sense while reading that one of two problems was occurring. Either Fagan had too little material in his main story for a complete book (and so padded it with recipes and sailing jargon) OR he intended to do a thorough study of the fishing industry with particular attention to the impact of the Medieval Warm period and the subsequent start of the Little Ice Age, but then his publishers insisted on playing up the controversial issue of fishermen as the "real" discoverers of North America as though it were the whole focus of the book. Either way, the organization of the book suffers, and we either get an over-padded study of how commercial fishing pushed European exploration, or an incomplete social history of Medieval commercial fishing industry.

Bottom line - If you're interested in the social history of the Middle Ages you will enjoy this book. If this book caught your eye because you're interested in the questions raised by the dust jack, just skip the first 200 pages.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Bit of Fun 10 Mar. 2011
By Michael E. Fitzgerald - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brian Fagan's Fish on Friday is an interesting take on the progression over the centuries between the initial supply and demand factors for fish in early European history, to the remarkable strides made in preserving it before the advent of refrigeration and the resulting evolution of fishing in the North Atlantic. The time period covered stretches from 800 AD until just after the Puritans land in Massachusetts Bay. Along the way Fagan develops a most difficult theme, the history of fishing in the North Atlantic, the ship building technology advances that made it possible and the continual search for better and more productive fishing grounds that ultimately resulted in the discovery of the amazing fishery known as the Grand Banks off of Labrador.

His theme is simple and therefore remarkably credible: Fishing, as a primary source for food production for European tables, predated the discovery of America. The ever increasing demand and the remarkably economic success of early voyages ultimately built an international business off the shores of North America hundreds of years before the voyages of discovery lead by Christopher Columbus and John Cabot. By the time of Walter Raleigh's Jamestown and the Puritan's settlement at Plymouth Rock, hundreds upon hundreds of boats from all European nations were annually plying the water south of the Grand Banks. Who knew? In fact, so ill prepared were the early English colonists for survival along the American coast that without the fish purchased from the fishing fleets, these early colonies would have died of starvation.

It is an interesting read, but as the previous reviewer has noted, it is a little dry in spots.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Absorbing social and economic history 31 Oct. 2013
By Richard R. Wilk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I don't understand why the other reviewers were so stingy with their stars. This book is really an enjoyable way to learn about the importance of fisheries and trade in the early Atlantic world. Fagan is a great storyteller, and he always manages to get serious scholarship across in a way that keeps your attention. He covers a bit of the same ground as Kurlansky's "Cod" but he has a much better grasp on the broader social and economic environment. This would be a great reading for a course on the social history of food.
Great read and very well written. 23 Dec. 2013
By elizabeth baker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lots of personal touches and good information tying climate and use of diet to the whole issue of how the continent was opened. This is one of my favorite books of his.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"Fish on Friday" a good read 14 Feb. 2009
By Charles H. Caban - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For anyone interested in European arrivals and colonization of America, this book fills in many gaps. Doubly interesting to those interested in history of sea, commercial fishing, historic sailing vessels. The book has a few slow and repetitive spots in the middle but otherwise is pleasant to read and full of interesting information.
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