The Founding Fish

  • by John McPhee
  • Narrated by John McPhee
  • 14 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Few fish are as beloved, or as obsessed over, as the American shad. Although shad spend most of their lives in salt water, they enter rivers by the hundreds of thousands in the spring and swim upstream heroic distances in order to spawn, then return to the ocean. John McPhee is a shad fisherman, and his passion for the annual shad run has led him, over the years, to learn much of what there is to know about the fish known as Alosa sapidissima, or "most savory". In The Founding Fish McPhee makes of his obsession a work of literary art. In characteristically bold and spirited prose, inflected here and there with wry humor, McPhee places the fish within natural history and American history. He explores the fish's cameo role in the lives of William Penn, Washington, Jefferson, Thoreau, Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth. He travels with various ichthyologists, including a fish behaviorist and an anatomist of fishes; takes instruction in the making of shad darts from a master of the art; and cooks shad and shad roe a variety of ways. Mostly, though, McPhee goes fishing for shad, standing for hours in the Delaware River in stocking waders and cleated boots, or gently bumping over rapids in a chocolate-colored Kevlar canoe. His adventures in the pursuit of shad occasion the kind of writing, at once expert and ardent, in which he has no equal.

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What the Critics Say

"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." (Publishers Weekly)
"McPhee is in great form here, as informative as always but also funny, unusually self-revealing, and quite passionate." (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Read and released.

Reading McPhee is like watching a brilliant tennis player you've followed for years. I know his moves. I can even predict most of his methods, but I keep coming back to watch him put it all together. He is masterful. He makes the incredibly difficult work of narrative nonfiction seem effortless. Beautiful prose swims right up to McPhee and jumps into his net or flops right into the pages of his book.

Once again McPhee matches a microhistory (the American Shad) with great characters (biologists, fishermen, sportsmen, presidents, even his wife) present and past, amazing locations and takes you completely through the subject. You emerge from tail of the book knowing the history, the biology, the life, the death, the taste and the debate surrounding America's founding fish. He shows you every single bone in a boney fish. Read and released.
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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"

mixed thoughts

I enjoy nonfiction and John McPhee. As an audiobook, it's kind of neat to have John McPhee read it himself, but in printed book form it would be easier to skip over parts not of interest. This book contained many long fishing stories with too much minute by minute detail. Fishing fanatics might enjoy this - if that is you, then go for this book. I was expecting history, economics, science, and there was all that and much, much more. Making the darts, history of dams, biology of fish, deep sea fishing contests, many interesting topics and very comprehensive coverage. Now that I'm done, when I think back over what I learned, I do find it was worthwhile. But during the listening, I felt tortured at times.
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- Cynthia

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-11-2004
  • Publisher: Recorded Books