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Cod

A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

By Mark Kurlansky
12-minute read
Audio available
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

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.

This is a Blinkist staff pick

“Having fished a lot of cod as a kid, I was thrilled to learn what an important role this once-so-common fish has played in shaping world history.”

– Erik, Editorial Production Manager at Blinkist

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

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

A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

By Mark Kurlansky
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
Synopsis

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.

This is a Blinkist staff pick

“Having fished a lot of cod as a kid, I was thrilled to learn what an important role this once-so-common fish has played in shaping world history.”

– Erik, Editorial Production Manager at Blinkist

Key idea 1 of 7

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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