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

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  9,229 ratings  ·  785 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 1997)
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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.

Cod is a particularly unique fish, eating just about anything and spawning...more
Eric_W
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
Ngolana
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.

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...more
Alisa
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
Ana
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...more
Danceswithwords
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
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
Jim
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
Marilynmayer
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
Ruth
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...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
Laura
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
Carol
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
Jessica
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
David
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
Ellis
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.
Ryan
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.
Amy
So far pretty interesting to tell you the truth. From the exploration of the New World, to New England merchants growing fat off the slave trade, to the idea that a world could not have the classic fish n chips England is notorious for... Cod is everywhere. It is everything as far as the fish world is concerned. Fishermen lose jobs and we lose the tasty treat that is salted cod. Okay, I really have no clue if salted cod is a tasty treat as I have never consumed it. Unfortuantely, there is the re...more
Maddie
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
Linda
I have read in my colonial history research about the plentiful schools of very large cod that were found along the New England coast in colonial times, and decided to see what else I could learn about the fisheries. This little book is well written and readable, with a section of cod recipes at the end of the book. (Many of these, like Fried Cod Head, or Stewed Codfish Tongues, seem to be of historical interest only.) Cod was dried and/or salted to preserve it through the winter months, and was...more
Melissa
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
VeganMedusa
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
Tom
This book was a great fit for my interests. It talks about how food (which I love to eat), geography (which has always fascinated me), and history (which I studied in school). It even included historic recipes from various cultures which ate cod.

I don't think I've ever had cod, particularly salt cod, and based on how catastrophically it has been over fished, I may never have it. It was such a widely traded commodity for centuries, it's not shocking that it became depleted. The most interesting...more
Rhonda
"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
Valerie
This will not be a review, so much as a confession.

I am a foodie, I love to cook, and I love to try new things. I once bought some Salt Cod at Whole Foods, not realizing that it needed soaking and more soaking to prep for cooking. I kept coming home from work, and not having 2 extra hours to prep the salt cod. Eventually, the bag started to swell, and I had to throw the cod away (a part of my 1.2 tons of lifetime garbage that I will always regret.)

After reading this book, I realized the magnit...more
Sylvia
Before I read this book, I never thought much about cod, the flaky white fish found in frigid waters of the North Atlantic. It turns out that cod was once so abundant and so significant in the economic and political history of the West, that it was responsible for, among other things: spurring the earliest Viking explorations to the New World; forming the economic basis for independent American colonies and thus spurring the Revolution; serving as a critical link in the triangular pre-Civil War...more
Sam
I borrowed this book off a friend (after borrowing another book called Leviathan: Or, The Whale by Philip Hoare) and I have to say I enjoyed it jsut as much despite the subject matter not appearing as dramatic. Kurlansky not only brings the cod to life in all its glory but also takes the reader on a journey from the moment that cod entered the diet of man on a local, national and ultimately international level. Kurlansky includes throughout the book quotes from various fictional and factual sour...more
Emily
Kurlansky is the Master of social history and odd facts strung together to make perfect sense. I happened on this a few years ago and while I have not particular interest in food, food writing or in fish, I was enthralled. Who knew the world was like this not so very long ago--that cod was a major industry and a major nutritional source in North America and Europe. Now I have found Kurlansky's "Salt" which takes us back a few thousand years and into cultures I have never heard of because they ea...more
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1847
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
More about Mark Kurlansky...
Salt: A World History The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell 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.” 8 likes
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