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The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic & Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port & Most Original Town
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The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic & Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port & Most Original Town

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  566 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
The bestselling author of Cod, Salt, and The Big Oyster has enthralled readers with his incisive blend of culinary, cultural, and social history. Now, in his most colorful, personal, and important book to date, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a disappearing way of life: fishing-how it has thrived in and defined one particular town for centuries, and what its imperile ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 3rd 2008 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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Oct 05, 2008 Ken rated it really liked it
Highly readable account of the history and culture of Gloucester, Massachusetts. It’s filled with tidbits I did not know about, not just about Gloucester’s history as a fishing port but also as a haven for painters and writers. A lot of the details of “The Last Fish Tale” connect neatly with Kurlansky’s other books about “Salt” and “Cod”, being that salted cod was once a major product of the Gloucester port.

The book would have been hugely improved by the inclusion of a good map or two. The book
Apr 20, 2013 jersey9000 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Man, I love this dude. His writing style, and choices of topics, are a great way to explore history. he has the ability to take one, seemingly singular topic, and apply it to the broader history of humanity in general. This was true in his previous works Salt and Cod, and it applies here as well. in a similar fashion to how the Big Oyster traced the development of NYC, using that as a lens to take in the idea of progress on a global scale, here the eye is focused firmly on Gloucester, to similar ...more
Mar 07, 2017 Jimmy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment, animals
The poet Charles Olson referred to Gloucester as "this gloire of Gloucester." What a beautiful phrase.

Many artists hang around this beautiful New England town. A poem from 1920 showed how the fishermen felt when asked what "sickens with disgust the Gloucester sailor man?" Here's the answer:

It's these everlastin' artists, a setin' all around
A'paintin' everything we do from the top mast to the ground.

The local attitude was summed up in the conclusion:

For they put us into picters and they thin
Fascinating, but gloomy with the sea being so depleted of fish. It seems that the simple answer of outlawing bottom trawlers is too politically complex so instead they instituted ridiculous regulatory laws that result in huge amounts of fish, dead already, being thrown overboard due to the regulations of how much fish of which species are allowed to be brought in. No one, except those who are making a lot of money in the short term, want the fish and fishermen to go extinct. But that is what is ...more
Oct 29, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-for-nls
One of the best parts of my job as a narrator for the National Library Service for Blind & Physically Handicapped is reading well written non-fiction books on topics which I have some interest in, but would never take the time to read on my own. In investigating the decline of the fishing industry in Gloucester, MA (the oldest fishing port in America), Kurlansky embarks on a history of Gloucester and the Cape Ann peninsula that is richly detailed, and told with such narrative clarity and sur ...more
Oct 28, 2008 Felicia rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes history
Recommended to Felicia by: Barbara Ennis Abramo
My aunt recently purchased a condo in Gloucester and stumbled across this book in the local book store while the author was signing books. When I went to visit her this summer, she insisted I read it as well. Being a land lover (growing up in Wyoming doesn't exactly expose you to the ocean) and knowing very little of the fishing industry, I really thought this book was going to bore me to tears. However, I do love history, so I slid it into my work bag to read while on New Jersey Transit. His ta ...more
Apr 16, 2014 Maire added it
I'm not a big reader of non-fiction, but this book was pretty good. Kurlansky does a great job of using the personal stories of interesting characters to maintain your interest while he presents the facts. And the facts are quite disturbing. The focus seems to be on the vanishing culture of the small, working class, seaside fishing communities. This is, indeed, a sad story, but the real and quite possibly irreversible tragedy lies in the absolute devastation of the oceanic ecosystem. Modern fish ...more
Jun 25, 2008 Anna rated it really liked it
I have enjoyed all of Mark Kurlansky's books, even the ones that dealt with subjects I am not normally drawn too. They are easy to read and extremely informative at the same time. Your heart really goes out to those families in places like Gloucester who have been forced to make such difficult and complex choices in order to survive. There doesn't seem to be much hope for responsible family fishing endeavors. The situation is made more tragic by the ignorance of most seafood consumers.
Kevin P.
Jun 22, 2008 Kevin P. rated it really liked it
Still reading this. But, lived in Gloucester for five years and Kurlansky is thus far doing a great job of transcribing all the local lore while at the same time digging into the historical archives and putting it into global and historical context. Its a great (light) read. His "Cod" is a great book as well
Marie Hviding
Mar 02, 2017 Marie Hviding rated it liked it
Shelves: history, book-group, 2017
Extremely readable cultural history of the city of Gloucester and its relationship with the fishing industry. Kurlansky writes entertainingly about multiple topics and fills his book with interesting tidbits of knowledge.
Alexandra Kinney
Jan 05, 2015 Alexandra Kinney rated it it was ok
The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky is a book that I liked to read. This is my book review on what I thought the book was about. Smith returned to Europe with seven thousand "greencod" or salted fish, and forty thousand stock fish, or dried cod. England had recently opened trade with Europe and Smith was able to sell the fish in Malaga, where the price was high. Cod was considered the best fish to salt cure. Sixty percent of the fish eaten in Europe was salt-cured cod. Champlain described how t ...more
Patty Hurley
Feb 20, 2017 Patty Hurley rated it liked it
I read this because a friend recently moved to Gloucester. It is not his best writing. There's good information, but he seemed to have a lot of research that he had done for other books (Cod or Salt perhaps) that he decided he was going to throw into this book. It needed a good editor. It should have been a journal article.
Lois Ann
Dec 29, 2014 Lois Ann rated it did not like it
I am a huge fan of Mark Kurlansky. I have read almost all of his books; have had them imported to foreign countries just so I could satisfy my need for his great prose on little inspected historical topics. But this book, I had to stop reading after these lines:

By the end of the seventieth century Gloucester became a peaceful, egalitarian society…The crime most often brought to court was violation of the Sabbath…The rest of the court cases were not much different than today's Gloucester police
Jun 03, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Tighter than Salt, the only other of Kurlansky's books I've read, but equally well-researched, The Last Fish Tale reads like a memoir written on behalf of the town of Gloucester, Mass. This was an absolutely wonderful read: I was entertained even as I was educated, and I snickered at more than one of the oh-so-Gloucester tales related with Kurlansky's wry observations.

Following Gloucester's development from the pre-colonial era to present day, Kurlansky combines the unique history of the city wi
Aug 19, 2008 Cristina rated it really liked it
Researching portrayals of the Portuguese in Modern American Literature, I stumbled upon this 2008 book, which incorporates historical details, social descriptions, recipes, stories, and other sundry goodies about Gloucester and its fishing past, present, and (possible) future. The sections that interested me the most, and were most pertinent to my research, were those regarding T.S. Eliot and Charles Olson, who both wrote of Gloucester in their Four Quartets and Maximus poems, respectively, both ...more
Jan 22, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it
Another good one by Kurlansky. He makes learning stuff easy! This one is close to home (literally), as Gloucester (Ahem, Gloss-stah) is barely 30 min from my hometown and I spent quite a bit of time there - from family vacations to high school bunk days at Good Harbor beach, to volunteering at the local whale preservation society....

This "fish tale" travels around the world, so the title is a bit misleading, though the focus always comes back to Gloucester. From Spain to Newfoundland to France t
Jul 14, 2008 Shannon rated it really liked it
Hey, I really like Mark Kurlansky. I loved Cod and really liked Salt so of course I am going to love his new book about my wife's hometown. I even read it in Gloucester while hanging out with my in laws, (the Wonson's of the Tarr & Wonson paint factory fame, Benzene anyone?) and still enjoyed it. I do feel as though it was a little bit of his other books thrown together (always with the Basques and English ports and the salt cod). All of his books seem to linger in the same world, which is i ...more
May 08, 2015 Douglas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kurlansky does it again.

Mark Kurlansky has made quite a name for himself writing popular histories centered around a commonplace theme; the importance of cod, of salt, of oysters. In The Last Fish Tale, he applies his viewpoint to the fabled city of Gloucester, the oldest fishing port in the United States. While the book is well written, I personally, as the descendants of Nova Scotia fishermen, would have preferred a bit more focus on the fishing industry in Gloucester and the artists who immor
May 30, 2012 Jeannie rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was very surprised that it took me from Gloucester to other major fishing sites of the world...yet never did I feel far from New England. Each chapter is unique and since I prefer not giving too much away, please read and enjoy for yourself.

For a non-fiction book the prose and ease of reading made ingesting the many details and history of the fishing industry a pleasure. Often it is easy to forget the stories that fill the headlines regarding the plight of the
Lisa Kelsey
Aug 23, 2010 Lisa Kelsey rated it it was amazing
Another great microhistory from Kurlansky, this one traces the demise of small fishing villages through the lens of Gloucester in Massachusetts. It's a wonderful history of a coastal New England town but it's also a dire warning about the state of the world's fisheries. Corporations with large ships that indiscriminately vacuum up fish of all species and sizes have replaced the traditional, more responsible styles of fishing that have been around for thousands of years. I don't think people real ...more
May 19, 2011 Irene rated it really liked it
Shelves: natural-world
I really enjoyed reading about the glory days and the fall of fishing in Gloucester, MA. Kurlansky has a way of folding history, ecology, economics and everyday human nature into a story with depth and warm humor. I often visited Point Judith in RI as a kid (to walk the piers; see the derby boats come in; and have clam cakes from "Johnny's clam shack"). There's something compeling about a fishing port. I visited Gloucester for the first time around 1977 on a vacation with my college roommate. I ...more
Mike Prochot
Feb 22, 2011 Mike Prochot rated it really liked it
Entertaining and fascinating. A view of a vanishing lifestyle. You may have seen a representation of the statue of the fisherman in his slicker struggling at the wheel, you may have even seen a fish stick commercial telling you to "Look for the "glauster"(sic) fisherman" - but you had no real idea just what the heck it was all about. With this book available, you have no excuse to remain ignorant.

A tough people on a tough bit of rock, eeking out a living and building a legacy. If you can't get
Trish Remley
Aug 14, 2012 Trish Remley rated it really liked it
My yearly when in Maine read something about the ocean, Maine, etc. Actually is the history of the fishing industry of Glouster, Mass. and generally ocean fishing in general. Found it very interesting. I use to spend a week at my cousins in Glouster when young and remember the Fisherman's statue. I didn't know that Glouster was an island! Like everything else the ocean fisheries have been used and abused and everyone wants their piece of the pie. I especially liked the early chapter/forward of g ...more
Sep 12, 2008 Melody rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book immensely. Kurlansky's got a deft hand with historical detail and an understated humor that sneaks up on a person.

His sympathetic and understanding portrait of the fishermen of Gloucester was eye-opening to me. All the books I've read about the current fishery crisis before this tended to hold the fishermen at least 60% responsible for the state of the ocean. Kurlansky begs to differ, and presents a very good case for the fishermen's side.

I was also pleasantly surprised to l
Apr 02, 2011 Nicole rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who appreciate small town life

I balked at this book when it was handed to me, but Vern and Geoff, how could I resist? And, for the record, I’m glad I caved to nonfiction peer pressure because it was quite good!

The first couple chapters are the most engaging and I admit to falling asleep somewhere in the middle. Not sure if the book got slow or if I had reached my nonfiction saturation point. The upshot is I want to visit Gloucester. Now. Today. BUT when I go, I will tread lightly, respect the fishermen, and spend my money a
Mar 12, 2009 Grace rated it liked it
This book is about much more than the history of the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In a rambling and anecdotal narrative, it also touches explains fishing methods through the ages and the havoc they wreak upon ocean ecosystems. No one is spared. Not the fisherman, the regulators or the scientists.

How do you manage an ecosystem that you don't really understand? How do you stop the waste of by-catch? Can anything be done to save the ocean fisheries from climate change?

This is not a book if y
Aug 03, 2011 Janet rated it liked it
I loved Cod and couldn't wait to read this one. It's a little uneven. The chapters on the culture and geography of Gloucester are fascinating. The long digression into European fishing villages, not so much. A lot of the fishing stuff seemed cut and pasted from Cod and didn't add any new insight. Wish he'd written more on the impact of Gloucester's zoning laws and how that compares with other fishing towns that have been condo-fied and turned into theme parks. He mentions it but doesn't go into ...more
Jul 01, 2008 Lydia added it
I began reading this at about the same time as the "Gloucester 17" was making headlines across the country earlier this summer. It did not contradict the press (struggling fishing town on the rocks--pun intended). But at the same time it showed the town's strength and honor in a very straightforward way... best exemplified through the raucous time of fiesta, one of the few avenues I have of feeling truly connected to the city. Brilliant. I read it when I'm feeling like a homesick historian. ;)
Jun 06, 2010 Magila rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
it started off maybe not in too compelling a way. i was ready to dish out a three, and then it just got better and better. it became an interesting account of not just new england fishing, but immigration and global fishing, etc. i was also ready to be bludgeoned with a political message about overfishing, but the stronger message was mismanagement of oversight and waste (anyone can agree with that, no matter their politics).

the author is the preeminent historical non-fiction guy covering vario
Josh Stottman
Feb 07, 2016 Josh Stottman rated it really liked it
Very interesting book on the history of fishing and other activities in Gloucester. It seems to be a recurring theme in my reading of History is that we as humans often find the best way to destroy or completely FUBAR natural resources on a pretty consistent basis. I know hindsight is 2o/20, but the pattern is really quite depressing. That being said, it was good to read that the old guard fisherman from Gloucester were one of the main ones fighting against the methods of fishing they knew was h ...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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