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Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World Paperback – 6 May 1999
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To make the history of a fish interesting, invigorating and moving is an almost impossible feat that Mark Kurlansky accomplishes fantastically well in this compact, learned, beautifully written gem of a book. Cod traces humankind's involvement with what was once one of the world's most plentiful foodstuffs. The Basque people, who Kurlansky suggests found America before Columbus, could only fish and forage (for whale meat) as far as they did because of the huge schools of cod they found, caught and salted as they went. Centuries before this Vikings had travelled from Norway across to Canada--the exact range of the Atlantic cod. Interspersed with old and forgotten recipes Cod becomes a fitting requiem to a fish no-one believed would ever become scarce nor become such a telling metaphor for our careless treatment of the sea, its bounty and our wider environment. --Mark Thwaite
"A must-have book for anyone who loves fish. Kurlansky was innovative (and is now much imitated) in writing a book about how a commodity shaped history." (The Week)
"This is an extraordinary little book, unputdownable, written in the most lyrical, flowing style which paints vivid pictures and, at the same time, punches into place hard facts that stop you dead in your tracks. Who would ever think that a book on cod would make a compulsive read? And yet this is precisely what Kurlansky has done" (Sir Roy Strong Express on Sunday)
"An engrossing and timely little epic" (Scotsman)
"To go out and buy a book on the subject (of cod) is to invite glances of suspicion. While a few eccentrics might think this is a good reason to purchase several copies, for the rest of us it requires a certain leap of faith. Cod...amply rewards such a leap. It is compact and beautifully produced" (Mail on Sunday)
"Refreshing and invigorating, full of fascinating facts" (Independent on Sunday)
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It is the section on the history of the Cod fisheries that I find to be most fascinating. The Cod is shown as the lure which drew the first Europeans to North America. Rapidly becoming a staple in the diets of many, Cod became a pillar of he economies of several regions as well as a major commodity in the fabled Triangle Trade. Access to Cod became a causa bellae, which it remains to our day, and a factor in treaty negotiations.
As the history enters more modern times, the narrative focuses more on the depletion of the Cod stocks. The effects of the failure of the Cod stock on fishing communities in the North Eastern United States and Maritime Canada, as well as on British Cuisine, and on the take of other species, make for interesting reading. Cod is identified as the major natural resource of Iceland. The shifting of national policies along with the extent of offshore fishing rights is closely studied. The book concludes with a collection of regional Cod recipes.
Often we think of human history as an exclusively human story. "Cod" reminds us of the interdependence between man and the sea's creatures.
The book paints very vivid pictures of the way in which cod involved as part of trade restrictions help stoke the fire of American independence, played its role in the slave trade, and contributed to numerous stands offs and confrontations between countries. In fact the legendary cod wars of the 1970's between Iceland and the United Kingdom, are only recent additions to the ongoing dispute between nations over fishing grounds. In the 1480's the Hanseatic League, which was formed to stand up for the merchant class in northern German towns prevented Bristol merchants from buying Icelandic cod.
The wealth of some of modern days most powerful and influential nations primarily the United States and Canada, originated from cod resources. In fact cod played such an important part in creating the wealth of many of the first American aristocrats, it was often idealised by those Americans that had become rich on this once abundance resource. Many of the first American coins issued from 1776 to 1778 had codfish on them. When the first American aristocrats built their mansions they decorated them with codfish.
Kulansky also delves into the harsh reality of the dangers and the reality faced by trawler men especially before modern fishing methods were adopted. Many fishermen would lose limbs, due to frostbite, many of the early fishing boats were extremely unstable and a large percentage of men drowned at sea. Even today with the high attention to safety fishing is still one of the most precarious trades, a British survey in 1983 showed the death rate among British fisherman to be twenty times higher than in manufacturing.
Kulansky ends the book with a poignant look at the lost of cod stocks in the sea, focusing on the virtual disappearance of the cod stock around Newfoundland which was once the largest cod fishery in the world. Mans disregard and belief that nature is an unlimited resource over 1000 years has caused devastation and the disappearance of one of mans last wild natural food resource.
This book is extremely interesting read, with many fascinating facts. The book will definitely change peoples perception of Cod, and to my amazement, the cod is a fish that really did change the world.
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