Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Founding Fish

Posted by nliakos on February 4, 2007

by John McPhee (audiobook, read by the author)

I love almost everything written by John McPhee; otherwise, I would probably never have picked up a book about fish and fishing. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of fishing, and I did not enjoy listening to descriptions of fish being caught. Still, I kept listening.

McPhee is an avid shad fisherman (who knew?), and this is the most personal book I have read of his. In his many books, he usually includes himself as accompanying the people he uses as sources for his material, but never before have I seen him focus so directly on himself and what he does. That was kind of interesting.

As he does with all his subjects, from Florida oranges to geologic processes, McPhee has made this subject–the American shad–fascinating. He writes about how shad played a role in American history, how shad fishing differs from other kinds of fishing, and shad biology (for me, the most interesting part). As always, he includes portraits of various people who work in some capacity with shad–fishing for them, studying them….

The biggest surprise for me was the final chapter, “Catch and Release,” where McPhee examines the ideas of PETA–People for the Ehtical Treatment of Animals. I am against medical research on animals and am a partial vegetarian (no meat or poultry); I do not believe that people are superior to other animals, but PETA is way too radical for me. I did not expect McPhee, as a longtime fisherman, to examine PETA’s viewpoints in a fair way. However, that is exactly what he does. He writes, for example, that PETA claims that fishing is cruel because a fish’s nervous system is similar to that of a human, and it feels pain and stress when it is hooked. After consulting his ichthyologist sources and asking how a fish’s nervous system differs from a human nervous system (it doesn’t), he states bluntly, “PETA has a point.” And he gives a careful analysis of the “catch and release” sport fishing that many claim is even more cruel than fishing for supper, because the stressed and injured fish often die soon after being released. (Interestingly, this kind of fishing is illegal in Germany because it is deemed cruel.)

I can’t say this book would attract a wide readership, but for this McPhee fan, it was not a disappointment!

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One Response to “The Founding Fish”

  1. […] then sell to the big utilities. I remember reading another McPhee book (I think it may have been The Founding Fish) in which he wrote about the planned destruction of dams not being used to generate […]

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