The Founding Fish
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The Founding Fish

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  501 ratings  ·  51 reviews
John McPhee's twenty-sixth book is a braid of personal history, natural history, and American history, in descending order of volume. Each spring, American shad-Alosa sapidissima-leave the ocean in hundreds of thousands and run heroic distances upriver to spawn.

McPhee--a shad fisherman himself--recounts the shad's cameo role in the lives of George Washington and Henry Dav...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 10th 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2002)
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Matthew
fascinating, but like any mcphee book, i'll give you $10 if you can finish.
Hoyt
Read anything (and there's a LOT!) by John McPhee. My selection as the best American word/sentence craftsman. About every 10 pages he comes up with a sentence that just stuns. The best of the founders of New Journalism - and that's saying something!

Just pick a topic you'd like to learn about. Better, pick a topic you have no desire to learn about. How about "Founding Fish", a whole book about the role of SHAD in American life! (Shad is the smaller, East Coast version of salmon, that saved the Am...more
Patrick O'Connell
I've found I can pretty much count on a New Yorker contributer and/or a Pulitzer Prize winner to provide an enjoyable read and McPhee is no exception. Admittedly his I found Geology series (his Pulitzer series) to be tedious, but this one, although certainly not his best is another of his good ones.

I didn't expect to like it.

The way McPhees weaves interviews and personal antecdotes into his non-fiction brings it to life.
John
Just when you’re convinced the writing has become too ponderous, McPhee rewards you with a unique image. Here’s one about a fishing map: “Refining things further, he made a series of small X’s in spots where shad are sometimes only a little less dense than they would be in the hold of a canning ship. Or so I imagined Sam was imagining.” This one will rock you to the bones, about the mysteriously gutted shad McPhee removed from the stringer hooked to his waders: “Suddenly, a picture formed, and a...more
David Kent
Who would have guessed that a nearly 360-page book about a fish could be so entertaining and informative? John McPhee takes us on a series of fishing expeditions seeking the anadromous shad as they travel from the sea into the rivers to spawn. Along the way we experience the thrill of fishing, a cast of interesting characters, and more than a modicum of shad biology. We also get a view into the historical importance of the shad fishery, and why, along with the founding fathers, we have a foundin...more
ron swegman
John McPhee is America's living master of creative nonfiction. He won the Pulitzer Prize with 1999's Annals of the Former World, and the follow-up was 2002's The Founding Fish.
McPhee is an avid fishermasn and feels that angling writing is a "great genre" within the craft. The Founding Fish has given him the freedom to fuse a fishing memoir with an historical narrative and a complex and complete biological profile of the American shad; an anadromous fish that has fueled Native Americans, Pilgrims...more
Eric_W
I have to admit to being a huge John McPhee fan. His books and essays are always interesting and Founding Fish about the American shad is no exception. McPhee always does his homework, seeking out the knowledgeable and then going further to double-check even their information. For example, one little tidbit is the myth surrounding the role of shad in saving the Revolutionary Army at Valley Forge. The prevailing wisdom, cited in numerous sources is that the shad run was early that winter and with...more
Todd Martin
I really didn’t have any idea what The Founding Fish was about before getting into it. Little did I know it was all about the American Shad.
shad
Shad are a small silvery fish that typically weigh between 3-8 pounds. The feed primarily on plankton in the ocean, but swim up rivers to spawn (like salmon, they are anadromous).

McPhee loves him some shad, and his book is a peon to all things shad … their description, life-cycle, physiology, how to catch them, how to cook them, shad reproduction, shad’s rol...more
James
Well, we've finally come to the first abandoned McPhee book....

At 358 pages, it is the largest single McPhee book (counting Annals as the three books that it actually was) - and this isn't one of those that is a collection of long essays. 358 pages about Shad, a fish that, frankly, I'd never heard of before - and I expected McPhee would make me care deeply about, that he would almost make me want to drop everything and go fishing. (I mean, seriously, McPhee....this one even has an Appendix!...of...more
David
At first, I thought it impossible to write 358 pages about any fish, much less shad, which I had assumed was a junk fish. But the author changed my mind on both counts. The fact that he pulls off this feat in style and on such an obscure topic is a testament to his skill and the worthiness of his Pulitzer (received for another work). Yes, he gives you more information about shad than you could ever need or want to know, but for those who appreciate good research and a comprehensive approach to a...more
Brian Storms
Okay, I'm a naturalist. And admittedly, I have tried reading McPhee. Other than Encounters with the Archdruid. I couldn't do it. I couldn't even get started in The Pine Barrens. His one about the geology of California should be good, but I didn't get into it. I think I have discovered that I like fish a lot more than I like rocks though. The Founding Fish is a book about the American Shad, the decline, the rise, the fall, the fishermen who pursue it, the river restoration efforts that surround i...more
Goatville9
A friend - obsessed with fishing - lent me this book. If the opening scene hadn't taken place near where I grew up I doubt I would have stuck with this book which would have been a shame.

The author skips from place to place, scene to scene which can be frustrating. He also can write a sentence that is spot on: he described a fisherman he knew as " he has the look of someone who has occasionally spent time indoors."

I developed a new appreciation for shad and learned the difference between Anadrom...more
Katie
This a reading book, not a reference book. McPhee details his experiences as a Shad enthusiast, recalling annecdotes from researchers and experts, as well as citing primary sources from America's early history. The picture is somewhat inconsistent, (how much shad people say they ate versus what we find in the archaeological record), but McPhee does not really point this out explicitly -- I found myself thinking, "Wait -- didn't he say something completely different a couple chapters ago...?" in...more
Travis
I found this book on cd and gave it a try on the simple belief that John McPhee could make me appreciate any subject matter that he chose to write about. I had never heard of Shad fishing before, but I was correct, McPhee still had me entertained. For years I had wanted to read a book where he wove some of his own experiences into his narrative. I just had the thought that he would be good at that. He was and is good at that. I'm sure if I had even a passing interest in shad fishing I would have...more
Brian
Now I want to eat a shad. This book is a natural history of the shad, an anadromous fish (i.e., one that lives in the sea and seeks rivers to spawn in) native to the east coast. This book definitely made me get my map out, and it was worth it. There's a great section about the Bay of Fundy, the place with the World's Biggest Tides, where the entire Atlantic population of shad ends up for the Winter. Includes recipes and fishing advice, plus an interesting discussion on the ethics of catch-and-ea...more
Joe
i don't care much for fishing, and that's what this book is about, and yet, thru the sheer force of mcphee's incredible writing, i read and enjoyed the entire thing. unbelievable. he is a god among writers. numerous diversions into fish-related topics such as cooking fish, biology of fish, history of fishing, his personal life related to fishing, politics of fish, especially as they affected the success of the revolutionary war, and also controversies about river dams.
Tom Schulte
I love this newish genre of commodity history or micro-history. The game is dominated by Michael Pollan and Mark Kurlansky, but now owned by the duo as this McPhee title shows. John brings to bear a love of history and fishing to talk about 17th and 18th Century America and the ways and impact of the shiny shad.

Admittedly, this is much more fishing than history...

Terribyly narrated buy the author while he eats and drinks.
Tom Schulte
I love this newish genre of commodity history or micro-history. The game is dominated by Michael Pollan and Mark Kurlansky, but now owned by the duo as this McPhee title shows. John brings to bear a love of history and fishing to talk about 17th and 18th Century America and the ways and impact of the shiny shad.

Admittedly, this is much more fishing than history...

Terribly narrated buy the author while he eats and drinks.
Ken T
McPhee's language is always a pleasure and he does an admirable job bringing the history and the joy of shad fishing alive. His collection of recipes at the end are particularly amusing. His treatment of the decline in shad population - whether overfishing plays a factor or not - smacks of Melville's blindness to the decline of the whale populations in the 19th century in Moby Dick.
Tom Schulte
I love this newish genre of commodity history or micro-history. The game is dominated by Michael Pollan and Mark Kurlansky, but now owned by the duo as this McPhee title shows. John brings to bear a love of history and fishing to talk about 17th and 18th Century America and the ways and impact of the shiny shad.

Admittedly, this is much more fishing than history...
Tom Schulte
I love this newish genre of commodity history or micro-history. The game is dominated by Michael Pollan and Mark Kurlansky, but now owned by the duo as this McPhee title shows. John brings to bear a love of history and fishing to talk about 17th and 18th Century America and the ways and impact of the shiny shad.

Admittedly, this is much more fishing than history...
Derek
John also wrote and read Uncommon Carriers. Parts of that book were fascinating and really enjoyable. But I skipped through much of it for inappropriateness and sheer boredom. I actually got this book on accident thinking that it said “Founding Fathers” even though I had seen the book a dozen times.
Andy
I couldn't get into McPhee's work on the American Shad. Though masterful in its ability to incorporate history, science, narrative, and interview into a flowing text, the text was just too dry for my taste.

Certainly an interesting work, but at least for me, it didn't have that special something.
Tuck
this is in the h w wilson catalog for a significant addition to knowledge. but i didn't learn that much. haha. mcphee is a great writer,but this one didn't hit that mark of great natural history, like say "On the run :an angler's journey down the striper coast" by David DiBenedetto.
Steven
I would probably give this four or five stars if I was into fishing.

It's a book about shad.

And history.

And rivers.

And stuff like that.

Easy to read but full of the kinds of things you would want to know about shad fish. Including recipes and general American history.
Howard White
Highly recommended. I knew next to nothing about shad before picking this book up in Barnes and Noble. McPhee's ability to weave this extraordinary fish's life history in with the angler's experience is really entertaining and educational. McPhee is a national treasure.
Dovofthegalilee
I admire McPhee as a writer and hold him as a national treasure in my heart but this book nearly did me in. It's too much fish. I guess if that's what you're looking for you might be pleased but I like the geology more myself.
Cheryl
John McPhee is my favorite writer - I don't even like to fish and I loved this book. He combines natural history with personal observations and descriptions of people that make you feel like you know them, or wish you did.
Jimcgold
The history of Chad fishing and how it shaped our country. McPhee does not pass on opportunities to relate his present day encounters with chad fisherman, including himself. Well written as always.
Jonathon
Up until the last couple of chapters I probably would have given 3 stars, but the last couple of chapters made the whole thing stand together a bit better. Still, a book with a fairly limited audience.
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John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The P...more
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