July 2024
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Review: Cod, Mark Kurlansky

Cod is a fish most of us probably take for granted.  We can buy it, though it’s often expensive, and we don’t always think about where it came from, how it got to be popular, or what’s going to happen to it next.  Mark Kurlansky does just that, however, and explore cod’s role in history from when its abundance helped the Vikings to explore to the present day, when overfishing has severely depleted fish stocks.  Interspersed with this look at cod and its history are recipes from each time period, giving the book an authentic feel and an extra edge.

I thought this book was surprisingly interesting.  I originally wanted to read Salt by Kurlansky, which does a similar thing but rather obviously with salt, and when my library didn’t have that one I spotted this one instead.  I’ve recently started to eat more fish – it’s healthier and I seem to have outgrown my distaste for most of it – so it also seemed like great timing to learn a little bit more about cod.  With history in the mix, how could the book go wrong?

Thankfully, it didn’t go wrong at all, and remained interesting and informative throughout.  Because of Kurlansky’s focus on cod, he does neglect some of the wider issues, so at times I didn’t feel like I was getting a full picture.  Cod was obviously not the only reason that the Vikings explored the north Atlantic, and it also wasn’t the only reason that Boston became an important city – but it helped both of those along, and I think the book may have lost some of its focus if he delved into some of the deeper issues.  I suppose all I’m trying to say is that it sparked my interest in some other time periods, so I could learn a bit more about them in addition to learning about the fish.

Of course, the book also deals very heavily with the main problem facing cod these days, which is overfishing.  Due to long-term misunderstanding about the way cod worked and rampant attempts to land more of the incredibly abundant fish, there is now an incredible shortage and, at the time the book was written, moratoriums on fishing cod in parts of Canada.  Kurlansky writes about the many problems this has caused; namely, the fact that the fish may not recover the same way, the loss of livelihoods for the fishermen, and the changes in sealife that the lack of cod may cause.  There’s a lot of theorizing here, but I could appreciate that it was because no one really knows what will happen, and they still don’t know.  All they can do is hope that overfishing stops long enough for the stock to recover, and that it does precisely that.

As for the last bit, the recipes, they did add something nice to the book, but I found that overall I wouldn’t be making any of them towards the beginning!  They were very interesting in terms of learning what people ate at different times in history, but for myself?  Not so much.  They are fairly basic, however, so anyone interested would be able to make them with ease.

Cod is a really interesting book about the fish and its role in history.  It’s well worth a read if you’ve ever been interested in the fish or its role in history – or even if you’re just looking for something a little bit different.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.


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