The Zen of Fish is built around the story of a group of people attending California's first sushi-chef school, but there's a lot more to the book than that. Using the class as a framework, Corson presents the history of sushi, starting as a way to preserve fish, and its transformation into its present form, first in Japan and later in California. Along the way, he discusses different kinds of fish, how they are caught or farmed, and how they are cooked or presented raw. And this is accompanied by a taste of Japanese culture and vocabulary, and some of the science behind the preserving, cooking, tasting and eating of fish.
It is, like sushi, beautifully presented. The various threads of the book each make an interesting story, and you'll learn something from each of them. I don't want to reduce the book to a tag line, but Corson's thoughtful tone will make you more thoughtful in preparing or eating fish -- a zen approach, if you like. Certainly you'll be a more thoughtful consumer of sushi, but there's also information that might make you a better fish cook, and more knowledgeable in considering the economy and ecological impact of fishing.
There's a cultural lesson to be learned in the way sushi has been Americanized on its way from Tokyo. Eating sushi in the United States can be helped by knowing more about Japanese practice, but it's a separate thing, not a copy. The sushi school in California makes that clear, with frantic weeks of training instead of the years of apprenticeship required in Japan. Being fluent in Japanese, Corson is in an excellent position to provide a balanced view of this, and the clarity of his writing helps you develop your own point of view.
I liked this book a lot. There's so much in the book that while I was reading it I felt as though I should be taking notes, but I didn't want to put it down. It's definitely a book worth coming back to.