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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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  19,294 ratings  ·  1,414 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 by Vintage/Ebury (first published June 1st 1997)
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Miranda Reads
A bit fishy...

(I couldn't resist)
Figure 1. The majestic seafaring cod.

Figure 2. The majestic cod as us landlubbers know it.
Cod - one of the most common fish in the sea - provided food for millions. What started as simple fishing boats has ballooned into enormous trawlers that were capable of draining the see of a once limitless population. Invention and innovation led to decimation of the natural cod population.
Figure 3. A fishing trawler - capable of obtaining thousands of fish in a singl
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Continuing on my histories of odd things (and non-fiction binge), I returned to another Mark Kurlansky piece that may leave some readers swimming in the other direction. Kurlansky presents the cod and its importance in world history, which was surely as entertaining and educational as it was unique. Many may think cod as nothing more than a fish that finds its way onto the plate, best served with potatoes and green peas (or whatever vegetable one has on hand), but there is a great deal more to t ...more
Jason Koivu
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
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
Nov 13, 2007 rated it it was ok
I got stuck with this book for AP European History book report #2. I got to chose last in the class from the book list, and so... Cod.
I actually kinda liked it at the time. It was short, humorous at times, but went a little above and beyond with the fish so that the world turned and society advanced all thanks to Cod. Kinda made Cod look like God.
I actually suggested this book to the school librarian who was a family friend, for her to read on the way to her vacation. She came back and told me
Nov 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Deborah Ideiosepius
A fascinating review of the history of the Atlantic cod fisheries. While I knew of the stories of the Grand banks and Georges banks from my University days (I doubt there is a Marine Biologist in the world who has not studied this classic case of overfishing), I had never thought about the wider social implications of the collapse of this fishery and I certainly had never wondered too much about the sociological role of the animal. It turns out that Gadus morhua, the Atlantic cod was a major pla ...more
Richard Derus
Dec 16, 2011 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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,
Apr 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: microhistory, food
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
John Riselvato
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful attachment of a subject with history. I loved every single moment, had I learned American / European history this way I might have thought history could be more approachable and appreciated. Regardless, Mark Kurlansky does an amazing job taking the worlds Cod fishing and expands it from the beginning of earliest records to 1997 modern times.

I never really thought about the delicate balance of fisherman and the fish they catch. We always hear about overfishing and side with na
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment, animals
Cod begins with two quotes:

1. Thomas Henry Huxley says that "the question of questions for mankind . . . is the ascertainment of the place which man occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things."

I love that quote because humans, at least the "civilized" ones, think of themselves as somewhat separated from nature.

2. Will and Ariel Durant in The Lessons of History say "the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. . . . peaceful when food abounds, violent
Mark Mortensen
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
With the onset of another summer I sought a nonfiction book rather than a novel to set the mood. I enjoy biographies, but truly how much can be said through “A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World: Cod”?

Since birth I spent many days in Harwich Port on Cape Cod with my grandparents. As an angler the term “cod” was ingrained in my brain at an early age. At times in the 1950’s and 60’s the highlight of my day was watching the vibrant colorful commercial fishing vessels, riding low in the w
Jul 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
Fish Are Boring and I Don’t Really Like Them
Rating: 1.5/5

Summary: This is the history and almost everything else you could want to know (or not know) about cod. I mean cod as in fish not Call of Duty (sorry). Kurlansky explores the start of fishing cod and how the fleets fishing them evolved over time. Narratives of struggling fishermen and successful businessmen are woven into this fact filled book. There’s not much about the science of fish or genetics so I was sad.

Cod is beautifully writte
Dec 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
An enjoyable read. Full of plenty of information that had one thinking. The resistance to the obvious decline of the cod by vested interests may have parallels in the resistance to changing our use of fossil fuels by the coal industry, as an example. I also have done a bit of online research as to how this wonderful fish has been going now that there has been a moratorium on its fishing. Not as well as I thought it might of sadly.

On a lighter side I enjoyed the recipes that frequent the end of
Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Re-read 2017
One of Mark Kurlansky's wonderfully written micro histories. I was surprised that I still liked it as much the second time around that doesn't always happen with history books on a small specific subject. I learned quite a bit about the the fishery from it's beginnings after the discovery of the North Banks too it's almost closing due to over fishing. It's a great book to see what the glut and disappearance of a specific food, as well as the death of an industry can do to a country.
Aug 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 the centu ...more
Porter Broyles
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: genre-ecclectic
I obtained the audio book through my library. I had seen good reviews of Kurlansky's Milk, but wasn't convinced that a book with the focal point could be well done. Since I could get Cod and wanted something light to listen to, I thought, "Why not?"

I was pleasantly surprised. Kurlansky did a great job at explaining the history, biology, evolution, uses, and economy of the Cod and doing so in a cohesive manner that did not seem overly contrived.

The book focuses largely on the Atlantic Cod, but h
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, geography
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
Jul 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 09, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Oct 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting book on the mighty cod. Much of the focus is on fisheries of the NE US and Newfoundland but it does remind us that many of the discoveries of the New World had actually been undertaken many years before by fishermen, whalers and sealers. Written 20 years ago, it is a bit dated at the start and end but the middle bits on the history is full of fun facts and easy to read.
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's about cod. If you'd like to know the history of cod, read this book. If you've wondered about the impact of cod on human history, read this book. If you want to cook cod using recipes from long ago to recent times, read this book. If you interested in learning about the current status of cod stock around the world, read this book. Hey, I thought it was interesting :)
Josh Caporale
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Mark Kurlansky is amazing!!! I was amazed when I came across Kurlansky and how he writes microhistories about random subjects, ranging anywhere from salt to paper to milk to 1968 to Martha Reeves and The Vandellas song "Dancing in the Street" to the one that brought him attention and won the James Beard Award: the one about cod. Mark Kurlansky explores codfish from every angle in this book: be it world history, food history, biology, its environmental standing, as well as its culinary s
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: microhistories
A somewhat decent microhistory of cod with one major flaw: not all of his claims are backed up with enough evidence, and some are just downright wrong.

For example:

--Basques were fishing and living in North America in 1000 A.D.? I need citations.

--“[Unlike in France], the French language has barely changed in Quebec since the eighteenth century.” I lived in Quebec. This doesn’t seem accurate. In fact, I think Quebec French has evolved faster than France French.

—“A shark is not a fish.” A shar
Dennison Berwick
Feb 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
When a fox gets hungry it hunts for food. When it has caught and eaten something, it knows it’s full and then rests or plays or does whatever it is that foxes do when they’re not hungry anymore. For most of our history, when we were hunter-gatherers, things must have been similar with us. We might have cached a small store of food to help us survive the winter, but we knew better than to stockpile more than we could reasonably expect to eat.

Things changed. Somewhere along the line we learned the
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
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Mark Kurlansky has written, edited, or contributed to twenty books, which have been translated into twenty-five languages and won numerous prizes. His previous books Cod, Salt, 1968, and The Food of a Younger Land were all New York Times best-sellers.

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