Synopses & Reviews
What gave Christopher Columbus the confidence in 1492 to set out across the Atlantic Ocean? What persuaded the king and queen of Spain to commission the voyage? It would be convenient to believe that Columbus and his men were uniquely courageous. A more reasonable explanation, however, is that Columbus was heir to a body of knowledge about seas and ships acquired at great cost over many centuries. Fish on Friday tells a new story of the discovery of America. In Brian Fagan's view, that discovery is the product of the long sweep of history: the spread of Christianity and the radical cultural changes it brought to Europe, the interaction of economic necessity with a changing climate, and generations of unknown fishermen who explored the North Atlantic in the centuries before Columbus. The Church's tradition of not eating meats on holy days created a vast market for fish that could not be fully satisfied by fish farms, better boats, or new preservation techniques. Then, when climate change in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries diminished fish stocks off Norway and Iceland, fishermen were forced to range ever farther to the west-eventually discovering incredibly rich shoals within sight of the Nova Scotia coast. In Ireland in 1490, Columbus could well have heard about this unknown land. The rest is history.
"It was fish, not spices, that led to the discovery of North America,' speculates anthropologist Fagan. From 1495 to 1525, he tells us, the monks at Westminster Abbey consumed almost 11,000 kilograms of fish per year. The sheer enormity of this piscine cuisine offers a snapshot of the exalted place fish held in the life of religious communities. Fagan (The Little Ice Age) regales readers with a fast-paced, edge-of the-seat tale of Christianity's role in the development of fishing and fisheries as commercial ventures. By the fourth century, fish had become the center of Christian fast days and holy feasts. Early forms of aquaculture were developed to meet the demand, but eventually, as Fagan points out, Europe's rapidly growing Catholic population and its demand for fish on Fridays and fast days led, as early as the Middle Ages, to a North Atlantic fishing industry providing herring and cod and developing salting and smoking to preserve the fish for the transatlantic trip. But the onset of the Little Ice Age forced fishermen further south, and eventually they followed cod down to their winter waters off the coast of Maine. Fagan's rich prose creates a lively social history that will captivate readers of Mark Kurlansky and Jared Diamond. B&w illus." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
From the world's leading writer on archaeology, a new theory of how climate, technology, and the rituals of the medieval Christian Church combined to bring Europeans to the New World
About the Author
Brian Fagan is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he has written many internationally acclaimed popular books about archaeology, including The Little Ice Age, Floods, Famines, and Emperors, and The Long Summer. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.