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Cod by Mark Kurlansky November 3, 2008

Posted by a Wristfister in Books, Fish, History, Nonfiction.
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Published by Penguin Books [1997], paperback, 294 pages. Reviewed by Bowie.

Synopsis (by Publisher): The codfish. Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious than gold. Indeed, the codfish has played a fascinating and crucial role in world history. Cod spans a thousand years and four continents. From the Vikings, who pursued the codfish across the Atlantic, and the enigmatic Basques, who first commercialized it in medieval times, to Bartholomew Gosnold, who named Cape Cod in 1602, and Clarence Birdseye, who founded an industry on frozen cod in the 1930s, Mark Kurlansky introduces the explorers, merchants, writers, chefs, and of course the fishermen, whose lives have interwoven with this prolific fish. He chronicles the fifteenth-century politics of the Hanseatic League and the cod wars of the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. He embellishes his story with gastronomic detail, blending in recipes and lore from the Middle Ages to the present. And he brings to life the cod itself: its personality, habits, extended family, and ultimately the tragedy of how the most profitable fish in history is today faced with extinction.
Review: There have been very few books that I have read that have kept me riveted and hungry at the same time. This is one of those books. I love history. I think it’s all in the telling of a good story that either makes or breaks a good history lesson. Kurlansky succeeds on all accounts in this case. He tells a good story that doesn’t bore you by examining the history of codfish and showing how it played a key role in shaping the New World and thus, America. Well, if THAT sounds boring to you, then maybe you’ll be interested in all the classic cod recipes that the author splashes in between every chapter. If that doesn’t make you hungry or at least make you want to grab a fish stick, then this book can’t help it.

One might say that it [cod] is the only food, apart from bread, which, once one has got used to it, one never gets bored of, without which one could not live and which one could never exchange for any delicacy. –Elana Ivanovna Molokhovets, St. Petersburg, 1862.