Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish
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Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish

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by James Prosek
     
 

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They are the only fish that spawn in the middle of the ocean but spend their adult lives in freshwater. They can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and even cross over land. They are revered as guardians and monster-seducers by New Zealand's Maori and have inspired origin myths throughout the Pacific Islands. Often viewed with disgust in the West, they are a

Overview

They are the only fish that spawn in the middle of the ocean but spend their adult lives in freshwater. They can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and even cross over land. They are revered as guardians and monster-seducers by New Zealand's Maori and have inspired origin myths throughout the Pacific Islands. Often viewed with disgust in the West, they are a multibillion-dollar business in the Asian food market. And they are often mistaken for snakes. They are eels—one of the world's most amazing and least understood fish. (Yes, fish.)

James Prosek offers a fascinating tour through the life history and cultural associations of the freshwater eel, exploring its biology in streams and epic migrations in the ocean, its myth and lore, its mystery and beauty. Prosek travels the globe to tell the story of the eel—from New York to New Zealand; from Europe to Japan and the small island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, where freshwater eels are worshipped by members of the eel clan. Along the way he introduces individuals whose lives are most connected with the eels' story—including fishermen, conservationists, and scientists seeking to uncover the eels' elusive home in the Sargasso Sea and their spawning places in other oceans of the world. Though freshwater eels have been here for hundreds of millions of years, populations are rapidly declining, due largely to dams, overfishing, pollution, and perhaps even global climate change.

Illustrated with original etchings by the author, Eels is a mesmerizing biography and history of this intriguing and mysterious creature. It is also a telling look at humanity, the will to persist, and the ever-changing relationship between man and the natural world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ask your average North American: eels, those slimy snakelike creatures, are generally held in poor regard. For nature writer Prosek (Trout; Fly-Fishing the 41st), however, they are a compelling mystery, and in his riveting synthesis of cultural, geographical, and botanical sleuthing, he investigates their reputation at home and abroad. The author--for whom the eel was once merely bait for bass--delves into the closely held traditions of the Maori of New Zealand, where eels are revered; into the beliefs of the Micronesian island of Pohnpei, where eels are considered members of a tribal clan; into the heart of the largest seafood market in the world, in Japan, a nation that consumes more than 130,000 tons of eels each year; into the reclusive world of Eel Weir Hollow in the Catskills, where fisherman Ray traps and smokes as much as one ton of eels a season; and to the fabled Sargasso Sea, where eels are thought to start their trek to the world's lakes, rivers, and streams--though, even now, no one knows precisely where the world's population of eels spawns, an enduring scientific mystery awaiting a solution. (Nov..)
Library Journal
Intrigued by the life cycle of the eel, the author explores the biology and the folklore associated with a fish that lives in both salt and freshwater. Adult eels spawn in the ocean; the larvae then migrate to the rivers, estuaries, lakes, and ponds where their parents matured. Where are the ocean spawning areas, and how do the juveniles navigate into the specific rivers? Eels are used as bait for fishing trout and as a food staple in various societies, where they are prized for their high-protein content, fine flavor, and the many ways they can be cooked and smoked. The author visited the Delaware River and the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, as well as eel aquaculture farms in Japan. He describes fishing and farming techniques and devotes a large section to the spiritual myths centering on eels in Maori culture. VERDICT An engagingly written account for fans of Richard Schweid's Consider the Eel or Christopher Moriarty's Eels: A Natural and Unnatural History. Readers interested in anthropology and folklore, fishing, and natural history will also enjoy this volume, which is enhanced by the author's woodcuts.—Judith B. Barnett, Univ. of Rhode Island Lib., Kingston
Kirkus Reviews

Prosek (Bird, Butterfly, Eel, 2009, etc.) seeks to get a grip on that slippery creature, the eel.

Eels can grow as big as pythons and routinely do in the western Pacific, and they are slimy and can inflict a wicked bite. Their association with the snake often stirs unease, but not in the author, who has fallen under the eel's spell—not unlike that experienced in the cultures and cosmologies of the Maori of New Zealand, the Chinese and Japanese and the people on the Pacific island of Pohnpei, Micronesia. Though Prosek doesn't neglect the natural history of the eel, so little is known about its lifeways that he concentrates more on the symbolic powers of the giant freshwater eel. These accounts offer glimpses into the faith and traditions of frequently mysterious cultures, yet some Maoris and Pohnpeians recognized in the author a sympathetic soul, unlike those of the colonizing Europeans who nearly eradicated the Maori, as well as their eel as a icon. Prosek understands that in retelling these stories he offers only a glimmering of the eels' customary complexity and ambiguity, but he does well in interweaving the mythological and the personal. The author is also a diligent natural historian, keen to the greater landscape. He vividly evokes a bleached-white coral path reflecting the moonlight on Pohnpei, and an eel catcher on the Delaware River, "with his long beard, the hills of the Catskills and the rusty yellow foliage of the beech trees behind him...looked like an old Russian bush guide making his way up the Amur." Prosek provides plenty of fun facts, as well—the Borgias may have used eel-blood poison on their enemies, and "the astronomer Montanari believed that an eel's liver facilitated delivery in childbirth."

A warm, enrapturing paean to the totemic potency of eels.

Paul Greenberg
Prosek has made his reputation as a kind of underwater Audubon. His trout watercolors…bear those particular, exciting hues that still-living fish possess…As Eels demonstrates, Prosek is every bit as good a writer as a painter. Perhaps this is because both his art and writing draw their inspiration from a similar challenge: to express the ineffable, fading aspect of the natural world in the industrialized era, the feeling of bright colors slipping through your fingers. It is this quality that makes Eels much more than a fish book. It is an impassioned defense of nature itself, rescued from the tired rhetoric of 1970s-style environmentalism by good, honest shoe-leather reporting.
—The New York Times
Mark Berman
If you consider the eel only when you're ordering in a sushi joint, you might not think the creature warrants an entire book. James Prosek's breezy and entertaining Eels, devoted to the slimy, snake-like freshwater fish that spawns in the ocean, proves otherwise. It's less an exhaustive scientific examination than part travelogue, part cultural examination and part scientific exploration…Prosek's writing is fluid and relaxed, exploring how different people approach eels rather than overwhelming us with data or recipes.
—The Washington Post
Peter Matthiessen
“A wonderful account of far-flung travels in pursuit of the secrets of the earth’s most mysterious fish. . . . Fascinating and beautifully rendered.”
Thomas McGuane
“This is a delightful work with the urgency of a good detective story.”
Bernd Heinrich
“I loved it! A beautiful adventure story of one of the most wide-spread and least-known but ecologically important fish.”
Los Angeles Times
“Prosek has a talent for observation. . . . He finds the beauty in things, the hook, the reason why they get to us, why they lodge in our subconscious. . . . Yes, it’s a book about eels — but it’s the stuff of dreams, and it’s all true.”
The Economist
“A comprehensive and appreciative study of one of the world’s most mysterious creatures. . . . [Prosek] has collected anguilline myths, lore and recipes from all over the world”
New Scientist
“Enthralling. . . . The eel’s story is remarkable, and so are Prosek’s tales of eel people.”
Booklist
“The tale of Ray Turner, a man who still fishes for eels the traditional way with a hand-built weir, is at the heart of the book, tying the mythology, the mystery, and the commerce of eels together into his story.”
New York Times Book Review
Eels [is] more than a fish book. It is an impassioned defense of nature itself... In Eels, he passes on the truth that the often disdained eel, like all migratory fish, is vital and mysterious and worthy of our full effort to bring it back.”
Washington Post
“Entertaining. . . . Prosek’s writing is fluid and relaxed”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060566111
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/21/2010
Pages:
287
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

Bernd Heinrich
“I loved it! A beautiful adventure story of one of the most wide-spread and least-known but ecologically important fish.”
Thomas McGuane
“This is a delightful work with the urgency of a good detective story.”
Peter Matthiessen
“A wonderful account of far-flung travels in pursuit of the secrets of the earth’s most mysterious fish. . . . Fascinating and beautifully rendered.”

Meet the Author

James Prosek is twenty-seven and the author of four books. He is a graduate of Yale and published his first book, Trout, at the age of nineteen while a junior there. He lives in Easton, Connecticut.

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Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is largely a transcript and diary of how he collected the information to write about eels instead of a book on eels. Sentimental, badly written and poorly editted, dull, and with little scientific value.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When reading this you won't be able to put it down! A very readable mixture of science,cultural folklore, and plain human inquisitiveness in search of one nature's few catadromous fish. To quote the book,"The eel is timeless and vital, a metaphor for the resilience of life itself....If we lose those creatures that form the foundation of our spiritual system, if we lose those things that inspire us to be spiritual at all, then we will be lost." A must read for the nature lover in all of us.
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Hi