- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Ships in 1 to 3 days
The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Townby Mark Kurlansky
Synopses & Reviews
The bestselling author of Cod, Salt, and The Big Oyster has enthralled readers with his incisive blend of culinary, cultural, and social history. Now, in his most colorful, personal, and important book to date, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a disappearing way of life: fishing — how it has thrived in and defined one particular town for centuries, and what its imperiled future means for the rest of the world.
The culture of fishing is vanishing, and consequently, coastal societies are changing in unprecedented ways. The once thriving fishing communities of Rockport, Nantucket, Newport, Mystic, and many other coastal towns from Newfoundland to Florida and along the West Coast have been forced to abandon their roots and become tourist destinations instead. Gloucester, Massachusetts, however, is a rare survivor. The livelihood of America's oldest fishing port has always been rooted in the life and culture of commercial fishing.
The Gloucester story began in 1004 with the arrival of the Vikings. Six hundred years later, Captain John Smith championed the bountiful waters off the coast of Gloucester, convincing new settlers to come to the area and start a new way of life. Gloucester became the most productive fishery in New England, its people prospering from the seemingly endless supply of cod and halibut. With the introduction of a faster fishing boat — the schooner — the industry flourished. In the 20th century, the arrival of Portuguese, Jews, and Sicilians turned the bustling center into a melting pot. Artists and writers such as Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, and T. S. Eliot came to the fishing town and found inspiration.
But the vital life of Gloucester was being threatened. Ominous signs were seen with the development of engine-powered net-dragging vessels in the first decade of the 20th century. As early as 1911, Gloucester fishermen warned of the dire consequences of this new technology. Since then, these vessels have become even larger and more efficient, and today the resulting overfishing, along with climate change and pollution, portends the extinction of the very species that fishermen depend on to survive, and of a way of life special not only to Gloucester but to coastal cities all over the world. And yet, according to Kurlansky, it doesn't have to be this way. Scientists, government regulators, and fishermen are trying to work out complex formulas to keep fishing alive.
Engagingly written and filled with rich history, delicious anecdotes, colorful characters, and local recipes, The Last Fish Tale is Kurlansky's most urgent story, a heartfelt tribute to what he calls socio-diversity and a lament that each culture, each way of life that vanishes, diminishes the richness of civilization.
"Bestselling author Kurlansky (Cod; The Big Oyster) provides a delightful, intimate history and contemporary portrait of the quintessential northeastern coastal fishing town: Gloucester, Mass., on Cape Anne. Illustrated with his own beautifully executed drawings, Kurlansky's book vividly depicts the contemporary tension between the traditional fishing trade and modern commerce, which in Gloucester means beach-going tourists. One year ago, a beach preservation group enraged fishermen by seeking to harvest 105 acres of prime fishing ground for sand to deposit on the shoreline. Wealthy yacht owners compete with fishermen for prime dockage, driving up prices. Fishermen also contend with federal limits on their catches in an effort to maintain sustainable fisheries. But while cod are protected from extinction, the fishermen are not. Some boats must go 100 or more miles out to sea — a danger for small boats with few crew members. Tragedies abound, while one, that of the swordfish boat Andrea Gail, documented by Sebastian Junger in A Perfect Storm, brought even more tourists to Gloucester. (June 3)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Bursting with ironies, Mark Kurlansky's epic history of Gloucester sweeps from the 17th century, when English colonists starved amid the world's greatest marine abundance, to the 21st century, when opulent resorts line the coast of a depleted ocean. As Kurlansky tells us at the outset, "A fish tale exaggerates to make things look bigger. It is triumphal." But he calls this book a "Gloucester story,"... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) which is "just the opposite" — "a story of miserable irony ... with a sad ending." Gloucester's annual pole-walking ritual offers a rich example of the town's ethos. Dozens of the townsmen, many drunk and all reckless, try to walk the length of a 40-foot greased pole poised high over the sea to seize a flag at the end. Inevitably they plunge, frequently with injury, into the frigid water below. Why do they do it? The question resonates as Kurlansky chronicles the many thousands of deaths of Gloucester men who have chosen what he calls "the world's most dangerous trade": commercial fishing. We hear that "Why?" echoing in his account of the 1766 storm that sunk 19 vessels, through the 19th century when yearly death tolls rose above 100, and up to the modern catastrophe made familiar by the book (and film) "The Perfect Storm." Kurlansky contends that fishermen are driven not by greed but by the excitement of fishing, the "special brotherhood" of fishermen and the satisfaction of participating in "a commercial activity that promotes egalitarianism." But this somewhat romanticized vision is challenged by his own accounts of the economic necessity that drove immigrants to face the perils of the sea. The fleets of bottom draggers owned by multinational corporations, which are annihilating the fish stock and strip-mining their habitat, further dispel the fantasy of a "peaceful, egalitarian society." The Gloucester fleets of Gorton's, the famous seafood company, are now gone, and the company employs Gloucester citizens only in its factories. As industrial fishing devastates the sea and thus self-destructs, Kurlansky wonders whether Gloucester will be reduced to just "another seaside resort." He takes us on a quick tour around other dying North Atlantic fishing ports and an in-depth exploration of its "sister city," the Cornish town of Newlyn, to show the universality of Gloucester's fate. The story of Gloucester, he suggests, may be the last tale of all fishing societies. H. Bruce Franklin is the author of "The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America" and many other books. Reviewed by H. Bruce Franklin, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Kurlansky...manages not only to give readers a history of the town and a real feel for the place, but to provide a primer on ocean ecology, a detailed description of the worldwide fishing industry, and a rather glum assessment of where Gloucester and its ilk might be headed." Providence Journal
"Kurlansky's knack for selecting just the right story to illustrate his points is impressive." Miami Herald
"A lucent addition to Gloucester's town treasury, featuring a wealth of dramatic stories." Kirkus Reviews
From the New York Times-bestselling author of Cod, Salt, and The Big Oyster comes the colorful story of a way of life that for hundreds of years has defined much of America's coastlines but is slowly disappearing. Illustrated.
About the Author
Mark Kurlansky is the New York Times bestselling and James A. Beard Award-winning author of many books, including Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World; Salt: A World History; 1968: The Year That Rocked the World; The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell; and Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, as well as the novel Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue. He is the winner of a Bon Appetit American Food and Entertaining Award for Food Writer of the Year, and the Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award for Food Book of the year, as well as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He lives in New York City.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:
Other books you might like
Cooking and Food » Reference and Etiquette » Historical Food and Cooking