What a great book! Big thanks to Ray Robinson for lending me his copy.
I will admit that I began as a skeptic. Just how good can a book be with the unusual title of Cod…..a fish that changed the world? Indeed. The back cover tries to set the hook with, “Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national debts 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.” Oh really? I don’t recall my history books mentioning anything of the sort. Still, it was rated one of the 25 best books of the year (1997), and a James Beard Award winner, too. What’s that all about? Who is Mark Kurlansky?
What I found was the chronicle of cod. 1000 plus years of it stuffed into less than 300 pages. And it was absolutely fascinating. Beginning in the tenth century Norsemen were following cod from Iceland to Greenland to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Maine. Really, what else could they do? Adventure, pillage and plunder was their heritage (especially after a bit of mead) but it got them expelled from more polite neighborhoods, but they had to eat to fuel Viking furnaces. As I learned, cod has been an important source of food and oil for hundreds of years. It became a major component of early international trade. It drove the technology of the day. Especially enlightening was the large part that the codfish trade had in the U.S. Civil War. It is astounding what I didn’t learn in school.
Another part of the codfish story is the near extinction of the stock. Once thought impossible by prominent thinkers like Thomas Huxley. The idea of limitless bounty dies hard. It’s tough to accept an idea that will devastate families and communities and put entire economies at risk. No fish, no income. Then come treaties, quotas and international agreements, not to mention the clever ways of avoiding them. Some things are changing with technology and some things never change. Well, take your spare change to the bookstore and buy Cod. Then have some fish and chips and settle in for an interesting and informative read. It’s definitely a book you will want to pass around….and I didn’t even mention the recipies.