Cod: a Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

One would think that eating cod would be more enjoyable than reading about them. This is not the case in Mark Kurlansky’s book entitled Cod: A biography of the Fish That Changed the World. Before reading this book I was wondering to myself how an author like Kurlansky could make a book about cod so fascinating and very hard to put down. In my opinion, Kurlansky portrays one of the most mundane items and transforms it into an engaging and informing text that is truly easy to read.

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To give a brief synopsis, this book takes the reader from low impact commercial fishing of ancient Basque fishermen, through the Cod Wars between England and Iceland, to the destructive power of modern fisheries. The main topic of this story is to show the important place cod has in the history of the world and second to warn of what can happen to natural resources if they are limitlessly exploited. Kurlansky shows.

What was interesting to me is the way Kurlansky split the two problems at hand into two parts. The first part the reader will encounter is entitle “Fish Tales”, through this Kurlansky is at his best when he explains how cod had an effect on diverse areas such as exploration and settlement. Kurlansky shows how much of the exploration to the New World was related not only to the hope of finding a trade route to Asia, but to find the rich cod beds that Basque fishermen had been exploiting for centuries.

He also shows how early American settlements exploded in size and economic power due to the growing number of cod banks off their coasts. From Kurlansky’s analysis, it could almost be said that these early settlements would never have flourished so quickly without cod. Without this ish, the growth of what would eventually become the United States would have been seriously limited, at least in the northern part of the country.

The second part of Kurlansky’s book entitled “Limits” deals with the serious problem of fish depletion. As hard as it is to agree, he gives a convincing argument that corporate greed and plain ignorance has seriously weakened the world supply of cod, as well as other fish. The devices modern corporations use actually argue against using the term “fishing”, as they are more often harvesting fish. The use of huge trawlers with miles-wide nets may be an efficient way to catch fish, but it sure doesn’t eave much behind to build up a new generation of fish. Throughout this book there are many different types of strengths that keep the reader entranced throughout. For one the book is well-researched and exceptionally informative,especially the recipes Kurlansky uses at the end of each chapter. I felt that using the recipes was a brilliant idea because it shows how important this fish truly was not only to be caught and sold to make a profit, but to be eaten in various different ways.

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