Isis's Reviews > Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

Cod by Mark Kurlansky
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's review
Oct 23, 09

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bookshelves: audiobook, history, food
Read in October, 2009

Parts of this book are fascinating, such as the role codfish played in the "molasses to rum to slaves" triangle trade. (It still boggles me that people in the Caribbean islands - which are surrounded by, you know, fish - imported dried salt cod from the North Atlantic. But apparently it was more cost effective to have every available hand working in the sugar cane fields rather than out fishing.) I also enjoyed hearing about the Cod Wars between Iceland and England, and how fish stocks rebounded during the World Wars, when motorized fishing vessels were diverted to military use.

But sometimes Kurlansky seems to think that having made his point one way, he needs to make it again, and again, and again. It would have been enough to tell us that Basques, Norwegians, and Puerto Ricans all have a similar codfish dish, rather than giving us the three recipes. (In fact, the recipes were by far the most tedious part of this book. Maybe they wouldn't have been so bad in the text version, but as audio, they can't be skimmed and are really boring.) The individual stories of modern fishermen got a bit dull as well.

Overall, though, this is a wonderful cautionary tale about those who would put economic interests ahead of environmental concerns. There's a definite parallel between the disappearance of fish stocks due to more efficient fishing methods, along with the protests of fishermen who don't have the capital to use those methods that they should not be restricted from fishing, and the acceleration of global climate change amid protests that carbon-emitting methods are necessary for economic viability, especially in emerging economies. But in the end, cod crashed hard despite eleventh-hour attempts to revive the fishery - and my fear is that history is going to repeat itself with the global climate.

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Reading Progress

10/11/2009 "Chapter 4 of audiobook. Am so glad refrigeration was invented and I don't have to eat salt fish!"
10/12/2009 "Molasses to slaves to rum. And salt cod."
10/19/2009 "ch 12 of audiobook. A cautionary tale for anyone who would put economic interests ahead of environmental ones."

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