Cod: A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World

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Overview

Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas? Cod -- frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hardtack. What was ...
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Overview

Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas? Cod -- frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hardtack. What was the staple of the medieval diet? Cod again, sold salted by the Basques, an enigmatic people with a mysterious, unlimited supply of cod.

Cod is a charming tour of history with all its economic forces laid bare and a fish story embellished with great gastronomic detail. It is also a tragic tale of environmental failure, of depleted fishing stocks where once the cod's numbers were legendary. In this deceptively whimsical biography of a fish, Mark Kurlansky brings a thousand years of human civilization into captivating focus.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Books as beautifully written and elegantly illustrated as this are, unhappily, as rare as cod. Kurlansky's marvellous fish opus stands as a reminder of what good non-fiction used to be: eloquent, learned, and full of earthy narratives that delight and appall. This book yields a feast of common and uncommon truths about the greatest of all hunters, homo sapiens." -- The Globe and Mail

"[A] marvellously enlightening ... concise biography that does justice to the vibrant and tragic history of the cod." -- St. John's Evening Telegram

"Stephen King would be proud. In Cod, Mark Kurlansky has created a little book of horrors that is compulsively readable." -- The Georgia Straight

"This remarkable and informative volume should net any number of happy readers." -- Publishers Weekly

"A beautiful, vivacious essay on life and manners, not overlooking human folly." -- The Financial Post

"Every once in a while a writer of particular skill takes a fresh, seemingly improbable idea and turns out a book of pure delight. Such is the case of Mark Kurlansky and the codfish." -- David McCullough

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780676971118
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada
  • Publication date: 6/16/1998
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.13 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kurlansky
Mark Kurlansky worked for several years on commercial fishing boats in Canada and the US, and subsequently became a journalist, covering beats in Eastern and Western Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America for the Chicago Tribune and the International Herald Tribune. He has written for magazines including Harper's, Audubon, and the New York Times Magazine, and contributes a column on food history to Food & Wine magazine. In addition to Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, he is the author of A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny, A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry, The Basque History of the World, and Salt: A World History. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Blessed with extraordinary narrative skills, journalist and bestselling author Mark Kurlansky is one of a burgeoning breed of writers who has turned a variety of eclectic, offbeat topics into engaging nonfiction blockbusters.

Kurlansky worked throughout the 1970s and '80s as a foreign correspondent in Europe and Mexico. He spent seven years covering the Caribbean for the Chicago Tribune and transformed the experience into his first book. Published in 1992, A Continent of Islands was described by Kirkus Reviews as "[a] penetrating analysis of the social, political, sexual, and cultural worlds that exist behind the four-color Caribbean travel posters."

Since then, Kurlansky has produced a steady stream of bestselling nonfiction, much of it inspired by his longstanding interest in food and food history. (He has worked as a chef and a pastry maker and has written award-winning articles for several culinary magazines.) Among his most popular food-centric titles are the James Beard Award winner Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1997), Salt: A World History (2002), and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2006). All three were adapted into illustrated children's books.

In 2004, Kurlansky cast his net wider with 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, an ambitious, colorful narrative history that sought to link political and cultural revolutions around the world to a single watershed year. While the book itself received mixed reviews, Kurlanski's storytelling skill was universally praised. In 2006, he published the scholarly, provocative critique Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea. It received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Despite occasional forays into fiction (the 2000 short story collection The White Man in the Tree and the 2005 novel Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue), Kurlansky's bailiwick remains the sorts of freewheeling colorful, and compulsively readable micro-histories that 21st-century readers cannot get enough of.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hartford, CT
    1. Education:
      Butler University, B.A. in Theater, 1970

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 40 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 2, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A great read. Great fish preparation recipies, too.

    I am old enough to remember my Norwegian immigrand grandparents, talk about codfish like was indeed, delivered to the virtuous directly from the hand of God. I recall seeing these fish, longer than my fathers' arm, displayed on crushed ice in the markets of Reykjavik in the early 70's. I also recall how upsetting it was to hear that the Canadians had place a ban on fishing cod on the Grand Banks in 1992, due to the threat of potential collapse of the cod biomass in the Atlantic. This is a quick and breezy ode to the North Atlantic species venerated by most of the world's population. Sprinkled with WONDERFUL recipies, it should appeal to those interested in cooking great simple food like grandma made, and enviornmentalists concerned with the failures of bad regulatory policy. The writing is engaging. Even if you are not thrilled with the prospect of a cod fish dinner, everyone interested on continuing to live here on earth should to try to understand how humans need to mitigate the past the destruction of all of earth's bounty. My husband is an often "commercial" fisherman. My stepson is trying to earn a living in the same profession, and watching the government attempts at stewardship of American territorial waters is like watching a Shakespearian tragedy from the stage wings. Even if you know the outcome of the story, you still weep. I'd like to know that one day, my great granchildren will be able to enjoy a fine cod fish dinner on Christmas Eve.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Fascinating Read.!!! Absolutely wonderful book about this Historic and Significant FISH. Would sincerely recommend this as a very interesting account of a fishery we all have taken for granted.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 19, 2010

    Nothing Fishy Here

    Who knew what an impact one species of fish could have on the history of the world? But impact it, cod certainly has. From England to Iceland to Newfoundland, Spain, the US and Scandinavia, cod figured prominently over the several hundred years.

    What could have been a very dry read was made quite compelling by Kurlansky. He included the politics, the biology, the economics and the environmental impact while always remembering the humanity that depends on the sea for their livelihood.

    Kurlansky also nicely ties in the topic of another of his books, "Salt". Seems that cod could not have become such a staple around the world without it.

    A short, but information packed book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 20, 2013

    Very Interesting Read - Highly Recommended

    This book may seem to be focused on the significance of cod in history but it goes much beyond that to encompass a broader, richly detailed history of humanity with cod at its central focus. In a way the book isn't a narrative just about cod, but of the contributions that have been made possible in large part due to cod. Highly recommended

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    Fascinating

    A

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2013

    Shelby

    Here?

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Cod

    Cod

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 19, 2012

    Read this book for an anthropology class and it is wonderful. I

    Read this book for an anthropology class and it is wonderful. It ties together a variety of cultures and their use of cod and gives it a historical perspective. Very interesting.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Highly recommend

    Very interesting book - full of surprising historical detail. The story of cod might seem a little bland - but the book grabs the reader from thie first pages. Thought provoking.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2012

    Great read!!!!!

    It was an excellent book, and i loved it. The last 30 pages are just recipies though.

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  • Posted July 30, 2011

    Cod

    This was the most boring book i have ever read. I dont see why anyone would write a book on how cod changed the world. If you want to write a book on how something changed the world pick something that actualy did!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2011

    Great read

    A very good look at the way humans can affect an ecosystem that was once thought to be inexhaustable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2007

    Kurlansky Strikes Again

    Mark Kurlansky has an astounding capacity to write great books about mundane subjects. Who would think that a book about the fat, unattractive cod could be so interesting, or so important to global history? Readers of Kurland's history of salt would have had a hint of cod's importance, and hopefully made more sensitive to the incredible importance of the simple things all around us. His epigrams are absolutely wondeful, and the interspersal of cod recipes works seamlessly. A great story well told.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2005

    Interesting history of the the North Atlantic

    An easy read, this book makes one wonder why there is no mention of these people taught in early history class. One wonders if the Cod industry really had such a profound effect on history.It is delightful to beleive that all presented is fact. Very interesting even if you don't care for fish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2005

    Worth the time

    I heard this book-on-tape daily while driving to work. It was so enthralling that I couldn't wait to get in traffic jams to hear the next bit. Fortunately, the non-linear format fit well with listenting to short (or long) blurbs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2002

    The Things You Don't know

    It's a bit haphazard, but fascinating to read as places and facts come together to tell a story that we're in real danger of forgetting. Cod is something you see laid out white and usually frozen in a glistening steel case. It has little connection with the fish and the people who pursued it. I was left with a feeling of loss at the thought that the teeming millions of fat cod that built countries are gone and if they dare to return, they will be harvested so efficiently that there won't be time to develop another culture around them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2002

    The Best 'Fish Story.'

    This is a book packed with little known facts aboout the history of the United States. If history could be taught in high schools from writings such as 'Cod', I am sure children would leave school with a much better understanding of history. This book was picked for our book club. Everyone was amazed at the facts revealed in 'Cod' and it allowed for a long discussion over our meal which of course was cod.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2000

    Very Entertaining

    This book was SO interesting! And I am not even a fisherman, in fact I am a 37 year old mom and housewife and graphic designer. It was so well written I always looked forward to the next chapter and on occasion even laughed out loud!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2000

    the Book That Surprised Me

    When I picked up this book, i expected a dry historical account. Instead, I found an amusingly informative description of the plight of the cod and how the situation developed. I strongly recommend this for anyone interested in history, activism, or fish :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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