333: Cod by Mark Kurlansky

by Gerard

333.956633: Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. New York: Penguin, 1998. 276 pp. ISBN 0-14-027501-0.

The 300s are a dumping ground of things that don’t really fit anywhere else. The class title is “Social Sciences,” but this tends to mean anything that isn’t hard science, technology-related, philosophy, or psychology. It contains (in no real order) economics, social services, criminology, folklore, government, and so forth. The 333 section is a tricky one–Economics of land and energy. This includes land ownership, recreational land, natural land resources, and for our purposes, “other natural resources.” 333.95 is biological resources, 333.956 gets us to fish resources. The extra bit is tacked on because 597.[63] is the section on the biology of cod fishes and you need those last two digits to denote what particular biological fish resource is the subject. Needless to say, it can get complicated.

Mark Kurlansky has made a good living on writing “object biographies.” He’s penned a book on salt (which is slated for 553) and another one on oysters (641, but I’ve already got a book for that one). They are a lot of fun, but many times they tend to get away from their subject. That may be rightfully necessary; who wants to read 270-plus pages on cod?

For the most past, Kurlansky’s Cod does a very good job of getting the history of the cod-fishing industry across. He even takes detours into the etymology of cod-related phrases (and I’m beginning to think that every word in history has, at one point in time, been a euphemism for “prostitute”). Starting with the Basque fishermen of the tenth century and going until the present day, he shows the wonderful interconnected of the world of fishing and economics. The problem comes when, two-thirds of the way through the book, it becomes a monotonous lecture on the dangers of over-fishing. Don’t get me wrong, we need to learn balance in almost everything we do, but 100 pages on the politics of Canadian fishing is a bit much.

Luckily, to break up the policy arguments, he intersperses recipes from all over the world to show how cod preparation varies from one culture to the next, and even from one century to the next. The last forty pages are devoted to cod recipes, perhaps to wash away the guilt from the previous heavy-handedness.

All in all, his history is interesting and worth a read. It took me roughly 6ish hours to get through this (all while working a real job, mind you).

In other news, this completing this book means that I have reported on at least one book from each Dewey class (hundreds). The past twelve books have definitely been random, but I’m already seeing connections. Brunelleschi’s Dome mentioned that medieval and Renaissance scientists and inventors had to write their journals in code, so that their ideas would remain a secret. This links up with The Friar and the Cipher, which is entirely devoted to an ancient manuscript written in a still-undecipherable code. I am reading a book now entitled From Silk to Cyanide, which is all about codes used during World War II. Life’s little coincidences always amaze me.