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The founding fish
McPhee, John
Adult Nonfiction QL638.C64 M4 2002

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From Publishers' Weekly:

In his newest (after Annals), McPhee leads readers out to the river-pole and lures in hand-to angle for American shad. McPhee knows where the fish are running, so to speak, and he opens with a tall tale about his long vigil with a giant roe shad on the line. Night falls, a crowd gathers on a nearby bridge to watch and still the fish refuses to roll over; however embellished, it's a comic story. He then probes the natural history of the shad, known as Alosa sapidissima and traces the fish's storied place in American history and economics. The shad manages to turn up, at least in legend, at George Washington's camp at Valley Forge; it waylaid Confederate General Pickett in the defense of Richmond and hastened the end of the Civil War; it even played a minor role in John Wilkes Booth's murder of Lincoln. McPhee consults specialists like a fish behaviorist, an anatomist of fishes and a zooarcheologist who studies 18th-century trash pits to see whether Washington indeed ate shad at Mount Vernon. The author studies under a master shad dart maker and in an appendix gives recipes, too. McPhee reaffirms his stature as a bold American original. His prose is rugged, straightforward and unassuming, and can be just as witty. This book sings like anglers' lines cast on the water. It runs with the wisdom of ocean-going shad. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Alosa sapidissima, the American shad, is considered an early teleost one of the most primitive fish, hence the title. As in his other award-winning works, McPhee (Annals of the Former World) writes with an engaging style that keeps the reader turning page after page. Here he ruminates on the fish's role in nature and American history it was a founding fish in more ways than one. McPhee waxes poetically about fishing in the Delaware River, making shad darts (excerpted in The New Yorker), and cooking shad and shad roe. He handles common anthropomorphic writing tendencies with flair and wit: "[the shad] can't be said to be cocky, of course, but he suggests cockiness and pretension." Although this shad is native to the Atlantic coast and naturalized on the Pacific coast, the book may be of more interest to readers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, where place names in the book will more likely be recognized. Still, there are a lot of McPhee fans out there, so it is recommended for large public library collections and where his books circulate well. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/02.] Mary J. Nickum, Lakewood, CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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