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Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
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Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  12,647 Ratings  ·  1,010 Reviews
The Cod. Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been triggered by it, national diets have been based on it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it. To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious that gold. This book spans 1,000 years and four continents. From the Vikings to Clarence Birdseye, Mark Kurlansky introduces the explorers, ...more
Published January 29th 1998 by Jonathan Cape Ltd (first published 1988)
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Jason Koivu
Sep 29, 2014 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
Are you prepared for the excitement of reading a review about a book about fish? Well, strap yourselves in for a wild ride, folks!*

Why write a book about cod? Why read it? Simple. Without you probably knowing it, cod has been one of the most important parts of our diets over the last thousand years. Without it, long distance sea exploration in medieval times (the era, not the ren fair) would've been just about impossible.

And now, ladies and gentlemen....THE MAJESTIC COD!


Okay, it looks more li
Feb 24, 2010 Eric_W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is no way you could ever get me to eat cod, despite my partial Norwegian background where they eat a variety of disgusting fish dishes, the most famous being lutefisk, a kind of rotten, spoiled gelatinous mess. But I loved this book. Kurlansky is another John McPhee, supplying all sorts of interesting details. Turns out cod has been extremely important to civilization and almost as essential as bread. It was easy to fish and preserve and probably made discovery of North America by the Viki ...more
Richard Derus
Rating: 3.75* of five

Victorian scientists said that cod was the fish in the miracle of the loaves and fishes because there were so darn many of them....

Yeah, late to the party yet again...13 years late. I read this book, I would swear, when it came out; I recognized a few of the anecdotes, and I remember the jacket design very clearly. But a lot had slipped from my memory, and I now wonder if I actually read it, or had enough conversations about it to think I had.

Well, whatever, if it was a re-r
Jan 29, 2008 Ngolana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all
Recommended to Ngolana by: no one
Shelves: best-5-percent
While one would think a book entirely devoted to codfish would enervate, if not actually annoy, in fact this work is a fascinating examination of the human tendency to greed as played out on a global scale. This is easily equal in quality and complexity, to my mind, with a novel by Dostoevsky, for instance. It follows the trail of guilt and rapacity from early times to today's sad, inadequate harvest and is witty in to the bargain. A great read.

Sep 13, 2016 Jimmy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment, animals
Cod begins with two quotes:

1. Thomas Henry Huxley says that "the question of questions for mankind . . . is the ascertainment of the place which man occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things."

I love that quote because humans, at least the "civilized" ones, think of themselves as somewhat separated from nature.

2. Will and Ariel Durant in The Lessons of History say "the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. . . . peaceful when food abounds, violent
Deborah Ideiosepius  omnivorous reader
A fascinating review of the history of the Atlantic cod fisheries. While I knew of the stories of the Grand banks and Georges banks from my University days (I doubt there is a Marine Biologist in the world who has not studied this classic case of overfishing), I had never thought about the wider social implications of the collapse of this fishery and I certainly had never wondered too much about the sociological role of the animal. It turns out that Gadus morhua, the Atlantic cod was a major pla ...more
Ruthie Jones
Okay, so I shed a tear at the end. I couldn’t help it. The cod’s tale is quite tragic. I love history and anthropology; therefore, I love this book. Cod by Mark Kurlansky is interesting and fact filled, and I find that presenting recipes and fun information related to the cod throughout and at the end is a nice touch and a welcome respite from the narrative.

I am appalled (but not surprised) at the lengths to which humans will go to discover, hunt, exploit, manipulate, and wipe out a food source,
Apr 09, 2011 Alisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, microhistory
I enjoyed this lively little book about the history of cod. What could seem like an obscure topic for a history book turned out to be an entertaining and very informative narrrative about a species of fish that has sparked war, shaped international political discourse, impacted diverse cultures, markets, and the environment. The author did a good job of weaving in odd little facts within the larger discussion. Seems a bit ironic that he would lamment the near extinction of the fish while simulta ...more
Mark Mortensen
With the onset of another summer I sought a nonfiction book rather than a novel to set the mood. I enjoy biographies, but truly how much can be said through “A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World: Cod”?

Since birth I spent many days in Harwich Port on Cape Cod with my grandparents. As an angler the term “cod” was ingrained in my brain at an early age. At times in the 1950’s and 60’s the highlight of my day was watching the vibrant colorful commercial fishing vessels, riding low in the w
Mar 26, 2008 Ana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: foodie
Great book! I wondered if I would like it , but I was surprised to really enjoy it. Kurlansky does a great and fascinating job in telling the story of Atlantic Cod fishing over the past 1000 years, tying it to world history and politics in general.

It definitely make me worried about over-fishing and has made me reconsider my fish-eating unless I can be assured that the fish I ate were either farmed or fished in sustainable conditions-- I think a difficult task! As a Portuguese gal now living ne
Dec 26, 2009 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Looking at the world from the point of view of a species of food fish can lead to fascinating results. For instance, it is quite possible that Basque fishermen discovered the New World decades before Columbus, and that Columbus may have known this. So much of American history (and wealth) is connected with cod fishing that it is quite sobering to see us come to the possible end of a species of whom Alexandre Dumas wrote, "It has been calculated that if no accident prevented the hatching of the e ...more
Aug 10, 2009 Marilynmayer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love books like this in which a very narrow topic gives broad insight into our world. This story tells the history of cod fishing, the Basque were one of the first grps. to successfully & secretly fish for cod on a commercial scale, all the way to modern fishing techniques in which schools of fish could be located & over-fished through GPS. Cod fishing brought wealth to many nations, became a treasured part of many diets (Its high protein count made it a valuable source of protein in t ...more
An enjoyable read. Full of plenty of information that had one thinking. The resistance to the obvious decline of the cod by vested interests may have parallels in the resistance to changing our use of fossil fuels by the coal industry, as an example. I also have done a bit of online research as to how this wonderful fish has been going now that there has been a moratorium on its fishing. Not as well as I thought it might of sadly.

On a lighter side I enjoyed the recipes that frequent the end of
Feb 11, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geography, nonfiction
I read this book after visiting Fort Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, N.S. and being impressed by stories of oceans of cod ("one could just reach in and pull out codfish"). I'd had no idea how important cod was for the island and for trade in general (I'd never really given it much thought at all). Kurlanksy offers a lively, historical and very entertaining "biography of the fish that changed the world." And with the advent of this book, the publishing industry has churned out schools, nay, oce ...more
Jul 31, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my wife
Shelves: read-history
In 2001, I was on vacation with my wife in Sydney, Australia. I decided that I was entitled to buy a new book to read while travelling. We went into one of Sydney's best book stores, and after much thought, I chose this book. My wife looked at it and remarked, "You chose the most boring book in the store." After that, I read her all the interesting parts of the book until she was finally forced to admit that maybe it was not the most boring book in the store after all. That's faint praise, of co ...more
A much more focused narrative than Salt, about Atlantic cod fisheries and the ways that inexpensive, salt-preserved fish changed diets and economies in Europe from the middle ages to the present. The central story of the book, though, is the way what was once regarded as a limitless resource has been fished to the edge of collapse, and the affect that has had on the communities that depend on it, and the difficulty of harnessing competing economic entities to work to restore the populations.
Dennison Berwick
Feb 06, 2010 Dennison Berwick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Those who argue that economic exploitation of natural "resources" can go on for ever because it always has gone on, should read Mark Kurlansky's book "Cod, A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World". The book is not primarily about the collapse of stocks in the early 1990s but rather a fascinating investigation of all aspects of this fish - cultural, economic and political - without which the American Revolution might never have taken place or at least have been delayed many decades.How so? ...more
This is a fisheye's view of history, as seen from a different perspective. It tracks the discovery of cod by Europeans, it's infiltration as a dietary staple and it's decline from over-fishing. It also represents much more.

This book takes history, from the discovery of the Americas, to present-day, and twists it slightly, shining a light on the events of the past as seen from a different angle. These are my favorite types of history books. I know about the arguments of which European actually d
Feb 19, 2013 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
What a surprising and excellent read! Kurlansky entitles this book as a "Biography" of the fish that changed the world, which was evident by the history presented. Amazing that wars, and revolutions fought over it. Economies greatly depended on it. And the settlement of North America was driven by it. As a "New Englander", I have eaten my share of cod as well as chowders. I found the history fascinating (beginning with the Vikings in 1000 in the Mediterranean world where salted meats prevailed i ...more
Feb 08, 2016 Praxedes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was completely taken by this book. Kurlansky's simplicity of language belies a thoroughly researched study on how one fist has molded Western society for centuries.

Alternating between humor, jarring data, and the sadness that comes with the decline of a species, the author braids a captivating history of a fish lacking the fame of other marine beings such as marlins and barracudas.

Recommended by my author and friend Zak Johnson, this book is a must. I enjoyed it much more than 'Salt' by the sa
Jul 19, 2007 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favoritebooks
Like Kurlansky's other history on salt, Cod tells the story of the Cod fish and how it has influenced civilization as we know it. This book also has a distinctively environmentalist angle. Whereas salt it an almost inexhaustible mineral, the Cod fish population has been greatly reduced by over-fishing and bad fishing practices such as dragging. Although not as good as Salt this book is still one that shouldn't be missed.
Fish Are Boring and I Don’t Really Like Them
Rating: 2/5

Summary: This is the history and almost everything else you could want to know (or not know) about cod. I mean cod as in fish not Call of Duty (sorry). Kurlansky explores the start of fishing cod and how the fleets fishing them evolved over time. Narratives of struggling fishermen and successful businessmen are woven into this fact filled book. There’s not much about the science of fish or genetics so I was sad.

Cod is beautifully written
Interesting book on the mighty cod. Much of the focus is on fisheries of the NE US and Newfoundland but it does remind us that many of the discoveries of the New World had actually been undertaken many years before by fishermen, whalers and sealers. Written 20 years ago, it is a bit dated at the start and end but the middle bits on the history is full of fun facts and easy to read.
Tim Martin
Aug 28, 2016 Tim Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nature, reviewed
_Cod_ by Mark Kurlansky is an intriguing look at the influence on history of the cod and the history and future of the cod fishery.

The Atlantic cod, _Gadus morhua_, had been fished as far back as the Middle Ages by the Vikings, who were the first to cure cod, preserving them by hanging the fish in the winter air until the fish lost four-fifths of its weight and "became a durable woodlike plank," which could be broken apart and eaten like hardtack (without which the epic Viking voyages to Icelan
Rebecca Radnor
Interesting book (I've actually read it twice, about 2 years apart), who knew that cod was so central to the history of western Europe and North America.

The book makes an argument I'd never heard before that Basques from Spain had been coming to North America regularly before Columbus ever got here, but never declared it cause they didn't want anyone else pouching their fishing grounds (apparently when the first British got here they even commented on all the Basque ships, but since they had ne
Feb 17, 2012 Maddie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, historical, own, bookclub
This was my second reading of Cod - I first read it at the insistence of my husband who read it in an undergrad class. I did not want to read about a fish, but he was right. This past month Cod was my suggestion for book club. Kurlansky takes the history of a fish and makes it an interesting story - about how the fishery influenced politics, nation-building and environmentalism (to a lesser extent). The book will definitely give you an understanding of how long industry (in this case a particula ...more
Neil Plotnick
For anyone who has been to the Massachusetts Statehouse, this book clearly explains why a carved codfish is the most prominent object in the legislative chamber. The availability of abundant cod in New England was perhaps the single most important factor in making the American colonies such a valuable piece of real estate. Even today, Canadian and American coast guard cutters have to deal with foreign fishing fleets that attempt to fish on the Georges and Grand Banks of the North Atlantic.

How Cod moved the major economic markets of the world and consequently the quality of life of entire cultures for hundreds of years.Kuriansky weaves fascinating anecdotes throughout. I wouldn't have thought I could get interested but I kept signing it out over and over again until I got through it. Amazing research. And I sure have a newfound respect for the Basques! Long before the vikings, the Basques of France and Spain became a powerful trading culture because they traveled further, kept the ...more
Oct 14, 2010 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a lovely little book all about the history of the cod fish and the people who ultimately contributed to its demise. I really enjoy reading historical non-fiction and Kurlansky's prose makes reading this book a joy. I learned more than I ever thought that I could know about cod and how this one fish was one of the most important trading items in history. At one time, man never thought that he could cut down all of the trees. Look what happened in Eastern Europe. It was almost completely ...more
Feb 21, 2013 VeganMedusa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the chapter on the Cod Wars between England and Iceland particularly fascinating (yay for Iceland, although they are unfortunately not behaving well in the current mackerel crisis). Also the history of Newfoundland and the effects of both their joining with Canada and the overfishing. When they voted to join Canada, the central government had other far more important industries to support, so ignored the local fishing industry's concerns about overfishing. If they'd voted to stay with Br ...more
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Mark Kurlansky (born 7 December 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut) is a highly-acclaimed American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He is especially known for titles on eclectic topics, such as cod or salt.

Kurlansky attended Butler University, where he harbored an early interest in theatre and earned a BA in 1970. However, his interest faded and he began to work as a journalist in
More about Mark Kurlansky...

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“Man wants to see nature and evolution as separate from human activities. There is a natural world, and there is man. But man also belongs to the natural world. If he is a ferocious predator, that too is part of evolution. If cod and haddock and other species cannot survive because man kills them, something more adaptable will take their place. Nature, the ultimate pragmatist, doggedly searches for something that works. But as the cockroach demonstrates, what works best in nature does not always appeal to us.” 12 likes
“Man wants to see nature and evolution as separate from human activities. There is the natural world, and there is man. But man also belongs to the natural world. If he is a ferocious predator, that too is a part of evolution.” 1 likes
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