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on 29 March 2000
Kulansky undoubted enthusiasm for the subject shines through in the book; most people's perception of a book on fish would be to leave it on the shelf. However Kurlansky brings to life a fish, which has in a large yet often unrecognised way shaped the fate of the modern world. Interspersed with recipe ideas the book focuses on Cod, which was once regarded as one of the most abundant food sources. However due to mans ignorance and disregard the cod is fast becoming an endangered quantity. Kulansky delves into the history of the cod fisheries, which date back to medieval times. In fact before Columbus found America in 1492, the Basques had been fishing the coast off America for Cod and undoubtedly had discovered land over five hundred years before Columbus.
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 October 2005
"Cod" approaches the saga of this most significant fish from several perspectives. It tells its scientific classification and habits.
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.
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on 12 January 2006
An intriguing mixture of history, sociology, politics, conservation and cooking!
This book charts the history of cod fishing from the dark ages to the present. The Basques were apparently the first peoples to fish cod commercially and as such they beat even the Vikings to North America by exploiting the rich fishing grounds off the east coast.
There is discussion of the ways that different people in Europe liked their cod. Here in Britain it is eaten almost 100% fresh (or at least fresh frozen), whilst in other countries they would not touch fresh cod, the French wanting only salted fish. Presumably this is historical due to the problems of transporting fresh fish over any great distance.
In North America the Basques got lost in the shuffle because they never bothered to lay territorial claims to the land around their fishing stations, and we get a dispassionate description of the “Cod Wars” between Iceland and the UK, untainted by propaganda.
But the theme that runs through the book is over fishing. From the early days when the fish stocks were believed to be inexhaustible to the present when commercial sized fish are all but extinct in many areas of the North Atlantic. There is the bewilderment and anger of the fishermen, who blame anyone but themselves for the state of their fishing industry and the restrictions that have had to be imposed upon it.
The book is interspersed with cod recipes down the ages. Some are pretty disgusting to me; we don’t eat the intestines in the UK! Others I’m going to try just as soon as I can get my hands on some good fresh fish.
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on 6 February 2001
We are now all aware of the dire straits the fishing industry is now in. All around the world fish stocks are crashing, primarily due to overfishing, but also due to environmental problems (most of which are also due to human kind). This book follows mans intimate relationship with one fish; the cod. It examines the early respect for nature and the fish which controlled peoples livelihoods, how we came to abuse that relationship and ultimately how fisherman have destroyed their only source of income. Pasion, greed and a way of life lost.
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on 21 November 1999
Coming as I do from Grimsby, I have been brought up on stories of derring do on the high seas in search of fish. This book tells of the international appeal of COD and the relentless hunt for it. We now know that it might have been a plentiful cheap food of old, but can now only realise that like many other thing taken for granted we have abused the natural resource. The story is told with factual assurance and good narrative for the side-lines ( ..recipes, origins of sayings etc...). Buy it and read it and be forewarned of what WILL occur with the resource of the sea. An excellent read.
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on 1 September 1999
I bought this book at a railway station based on the reviews and it's winning of the Glennfidich prize. And I wasn't disapointed - it's a great read, spanning the social history of the fishing nations, a few recipes and a thoughtful look at the possible extintion of the Newfoundlan cod due to overfishing. And it isn't too long or too learned.
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on 27 May 1999
You have to take a leap to buy a book about a rather boring fish but take that leap, it is well worth it. There are interesting links and facts ~ such as the role cod played in the slave trade ~ written in an easy narrative style which never makes it feel like you are reading the social history of fishing.
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on 3 September 2003
People see you reading a book about cod at work or on the train, and think you must extremely eccentric... however, it's a fascinating and informative book, and certainly worth all the strange looks you get.
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on 2 January 2004
It is surprising how, according to Kurlansky, this fish has had such an enormous impact on history. Enormously readable. Elegant and interesting. A pleasure.
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on 7 February 2013
One of my favourite genre of reading material (after angling books * of course) is the 'quirky' historical book. Well researched tales and well told accounts of long forgotten stories. 'Longitude,' about he clock maker Harrison, and 'Nanthaniel's Nutmeg' spring to mind. I would also put Cod into the same category - though it could just as easily be classified under marine biology - or ecology, the second half of the book, being as it is, a requiem to Man's abuse of nature's fecundity. The book also won Best Food Book at the 1999 Glennfiddich Food & Drink awards - there being a liberal sprinkling of cod recipes (mainly historical ones) through out the work.

Regardless of its taxonomy, this book is a fascinating read. What at first glance may be slightly obscure subject matter is actually a thoroughly engrossing story. Kurlansky weaves the part cod and cod fishing has had to play in all sorts of seemingly unconnected events, for example he makes a good case for the Basques to have discovered North America 500 years before Columbus.

Facts and insights like this drip off the page and it says something for Kurlansky's writing style that the book is quite `unputdownable' - you could quite easily end up reading it in a single sitting. I suspect the book may also turn one into something of a bore!! You will undoubtedly feel the urge to look up from your page, turn to your spouse/loved one or any one prepared to listen and start a sentence "Did you realise...?"

Something else that strikes you is the breadth and meticulousness of Kurlansky's research. And he is to be commended for converting that research into such a readable form. However, despite all the historical tidbits the books lasting impression is a salutary lesson in what happens when man abuses nature. A thoroughly recommended read.
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