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Cod summary

Mark Kurlansky

A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

4.3 (56 ratings)
14 mins

Brief summary

Cod by Mark Kurlansky is a historical and cultural study of the impact of cod fishing on the world. The book explores how this once abundant fish has shaped economies, diets, and cultures across the globe, and the consequences of over-fishing.

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    The Basque people were the first to introduce North American cod to Europe.

    You probably like your fish prepared in a certain way, be it fried, steamed or grilled. But when it comes to cod, many countries, especially those in southern Europe, are traditionalists. They simply eat it salted.

    This tradition dates back to the Basque people, the earliest fishers to catch cod. They would preserve the cod by salting it – a technique that turned out to be key in exploiting this invaluable resource.

    The Basques are a relatively small population of people from modern-day northwest Spain; they’ve always been independent, maintaining their own language, sports and culture.

    They originally set sail for North America in search of whale meat, which was in high demand in Europe. But, along the way, they discovered cod. They cured this fish with salt, thereby furnishing themselves with food on their long journeys.

    In Europe, the only places to find cod were in Scandinavia and Iceland, and since the Basques were never seen there, nobody knew where they caught their cod. The European Vikings were already dry-curing their cod, but the salt that the Basques added to the process made the fish last longer and taste even better.

    While salted codfish provided food for the Basques as they continued their North American journey along the coast of what is now the United States and Canada, it also made them wealthy back home.

    Since the Catholic Church didn’t allow people to eat meat on days of fasting, people chose fish instead, and the Basques made a lot of money selling cod to Catholics.

    Also to their advantage, the Basques were the only ones who knew where to find cod along the coast of North America. They managed to keep this a secret for a while – no easy feat, considering how profitable cod could be.

    But it wasn’t long before the secret got out and conflict over the fish began to brew.

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    What is Cod about?

    Cod (1997) charts the rise and fall of the codfish. A major commodity in the European market during the discovery of the New World, cod went on to cause national conflicts and, due to overfishing, eventually became vulnerable to extinction. Find out how this fish changed the world only to end up on the verge of oblivion.

    Cod Review

    Cod (1997) by Mark Kurlansky is a captivating exploration of the history and impact of the codfish. Here are three reasons why this book is worth reading:

    • Through meticulous research and storytelling, the book sheds light on the role of cod in shaping the world's economies and cultures.
    • Blending science, history, and politics, the book provides a comprehensive and thought-provoking look at the importance of this seemingly ordinary fish.
    • With its intriguing anecdotes and surprising revelations, the book keeps readers engaged and entertained, proving that the history of cod is anything but dull.

    Best quote from Cod

    In Spanish, Italian and Portuguese the word for fresh cod doesnt exist. Instead, the word for salt cod – bacalao, baccalà and bacalhau – is used.

    —Mark Kurlansky
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    Who should read Cod?

    • Foodies interested in the history of seafood
    • Conservationists curious about the dangers of overfishing
    • Students of marine biology

    About the Author

    Mark Kurlansky is an American journalist who has written a number of fiction and nonfiction books. His international bestseller Cod has been translated into 15 different languages. His other works include Salt and World Without Fish.

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    Cod FAQs 

    What is the main message of Cod?

    The main message of Cod is the historical significance and impact of the cod fish on the world.

    How long does it take to read Cod?

    The estimated reading time for Cod is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Cod a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Cod is worth reading because it offers an intriguing exploration of the cod fish and its influence on humanity.

    Who is the author of Cod?

    The author of Cod is Mark Kurlansky.

    What to read after Cod?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Cod, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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