Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cod by Mark Kurlansky~★★★1/2

Author: Mark Kurlansky
Title: Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
Release Date: July 1st, 1998
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Non-Fiction

Book Cover: "Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas? Cod---frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hard-tack.  What was the staple of the medieval diet? Cod again, sold and salted by the Basques, an enigmatic people with a mysterious, unlimited supply of cod.
Cod is a charming tour of history with all its economic forces laid bare and a fish story embellished with great gastronomic detail. It is also a tragic tale of environmental failure, of depleted fishing stocks where once the cod's numbers were legendary. In this deceptively whimsical biography of a fish, Mark Kurlansky brings a thousand years of human civilization into captivating focus." 

Taryn's Review: This book had a lot of interesting facts in it. The author included recipes for cod from throughout the ages as well as other fun quips about cod. However, my issue with this book was that Kurlansky took some massive leaps with the information he acquired to make his historical argument.

Kurlansky's book was what might be called a "popular history." He did a great job bringing attention to a topic that needed a spotlight on it. The current supply of cod is depleted, no doubt. However, some people don't want to stop fishing it and corporations don't want to stop selling it because they want to make money. Is wiping out a species of fish for our enjoyment a good choice? Of course not.

Kurlansky spent time as a fisherman, which no doubt played into his writing of the book. However, he sometimes made sources say something that maybe they weren't. My skepticism of how deep cod's role played in wars and revolutions was rather high, but overall, Cod was a book that did a good job of bringing awareness to the topic.

And to answer The Lost Art of Real Cooking's question about cod, the slaves were being fed imported cod by the slave-owners since it was cheaper than taking time to fish locally and slaves had little personal time to fish the local waters for food. :)


  1. Taryn, That makes perfect sense. Thanks. I must have been the one to ask.

    As for Cod, the book, Kurlansky also made a lot of stuff up. There's no concrete evidence of who might have been on the Grand Banks when Cabot and the like got there. No evidence at all other than he says someone was there.

    I agree with your hesitation to trust him.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment Ken! No doubt he had an agenda and went to great lengths to "prove" it. However, I very much enjoyed your book; thanks so much for stopping by my blog!