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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 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  11,029 ratings  ·  890 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
Paperback, 294 pages
Published May 6th 1999 (first published 1988)
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The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonSalt by Mark KurlanskyThe Professor and the Madman by Simon WinchesterStiff by Mary RoachA Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
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Food-Related Non-Fiction
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Community Reviews

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Jason Koivu
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
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 Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
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 5 of 5 stars
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.

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,
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
Mar 26, 2008 Ana rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Dennison Berwick
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
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.
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
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
Jul 31, 2009 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
In Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky detailed the surprisingly impactful career of a table condiment on human history. The importance of salted fish, both as food and as an industry, popped up again and again, not surprising given that five years earlier Kurlansky had penned an entire book on cod. For coastal peoples, fishing is more than a leisure sport done at the river; it is the sustenance of life itself, the foundation of regional economies. North Atlantic cod have been especially impor ...more
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.
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
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
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
Kevin Fanning
Super great. I live in Boston and have family from the Canadian maritimes, so it was awesome to learn more about the history of both these areas and how they developed in tandem with the fishing industry. I would like to read a solid history of Boston next, maybe. Or maybe just more early North American history in general, I guess. So killer that the Basques discovered North America, way before anyone else, but kept quiet because they wanted to just keep making money from the fish they found her ...more
"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. 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 al ...more
Fuzzy Gerdes
My friend Michael Strening, Jr, in addition to being an awesome musician, is teaching middle school social studies this year and he told us about a book that his class was reading—Cod by Mark Kurlansky. His description, that the book was an examination of the last thousand years or so of North Atlantic history through the lens of the titular fish, was really intriguing. Especially since I've just finished listening to the BBC's podcast of A History of the World in 100 Objects, which similarly ex ...more
This book offers the reader intriguing lessons in world history, geography, sociology, economics, ecology and gastronomy all centered around the unassuming cod. Who knew this humble creature of fish-n-chips fame had such significance to so many peoples? Very little of the information in this book was previously known to me, so I learned much and enjoyed the read. As this book was first published in 1997, I am curious as to how the state of the cod population and cod fishing industry has fared in ...more
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
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
This book had some interesting info about how cod fishing led to discovery of new lands, and about the politics of food harvesting from the sea. The serious over-fishing of the sea is discussed. The Cod Wars between Iceland and England were something that I'd never heard about before.

I probably would have given this book 4 stars except that I had to read about 100 cod recipes. That wasn't really my cup of tea. By the way, there are a surprising number of dirty inuendos based on the cod.
Cod: A Biography, is an interesting, quick read. The version of the book I read was written in the 90's and I'm curious to see where the fish stand today. At one point, Whole Foods stopped carrying cod because they were in danger, but I've noticed that recently they started selling it again. I'm curious if it's because the population has come back due to regulation. I clearly need to do more research!
Samuel Rowland
fishes are delishes.
Another book on my "gloucester" list.
Kurlansky makes a strong case for this book's subtitle: "the fish that changed the world."
Chasing cod led to the discovery of a mass of the fish off the coast of the New World, and the need to dry and salt it led to settlements in what is Canada and US.
One of the earliest North America ports was Gloucester, now America's oldest fishing port.
Cod trade enriched Nova Scotia and New England merchants. Looking for new markets, they went to the Caribbean, where c
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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...
Salt: A World History The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation The Food of a Younger Land: The WPA's Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II America 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

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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.” 9 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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