Cod: A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World

Written by Mark Kurlansky

OPL BOOK SUMMARY:  Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World is Mark Kurlansky’s third work of non-fiction and winner of the 1999 James Beard Award.  It is the biography of a single species of fish, but it may as well be a world history with this humble fish as its recurring main character.  Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and the only reason they could successfully.

Cod is a gripping tale of a 1,000-year fishing spree of a once-plentiful fish in the Atlantic Ocean.  By the year 1550, 60% of all the fish eaten in Europe was cod.  This percentage would continue to grow for two centuries. By the 18th century, New England rose from a distant colony to an international powerhouse, dubbed “the codfish aristocracy.” At that time, codfish were plentiful and weighed 150-175 pounds on average.  Tales circulated of folks collecting them in baskets off-shore.  When dried with salt, cod became the favorite fish of people around the world.

Sadly, today cod are almost extinct. When a codfish is found, it is rare that it exceeds 30 pounds. This is largely due to severe overfishing of the codfish population.  A species is only as stable as its ability to produce offspring which live to maturity in enough quantities to replace the amount harvested.  Once codfish numbers dwindled below that threshhold, populations could not recover. Take this gripping journey into the history of cod.  If we had fished more thoughtfully and sustainably throughout history, things may have been different for the codfish species.

Available used at BetterWorldBooks.