The Book of Eels: On the Trail of the Thin-heads

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9780007115938: The Book of Eels: On the Trail of the Thin-heads

What has been the dish of kings, the subject of myths and the traveller of epic and mysterious journeys? The eel.

Beginning life in the Sargasso Sea, the eel travels across the ocean, lives for twenty or so years, and then is driven by some instinct back across the ocean to spawn and die. And the next generation starts the story again. No one knows why the eels return, or how the orphaned elvers learn their way back. One man discovered, after many adventures, the breeding ground of all eels – and he is the hero of this book.

Eels were being caught and consumed 5000 years before the birth of Christ – Aristotle and Pliny wrote about them; Romans regarded them as a peerless delicacy; Egyptians accorded them semi-sacred status; English kings died of overeating them. There are many strange practices among eel fishers all over the world, and many great fortunes based upon the eel harvest.

The Book of Eels, a combination of social comment, biography and natural history, is also a fascinating and witty account of Tom Fort’s obsession with the eel, his journeying to discover the eel in all its habitats, and the people he meets in his pursuit.

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Review:

Science journalist Oliver Morton will love The Book of Eels. In an Amazon.co.uk interview, Morton, who had just written a book about Mapping Mars, said that bits of the world which fascinated him most were the ones which science could describe brilliantly, but could not begin to explain. That would seem to describe eels quite nicely.

Foods go in and out of fashion. The skills of the field and the kitchen develop slowly, refined bit by bit by passing generations--then vanish, in the blink of an eye. Tom Fort's uncategorisable book pays homage to the humble and delicious eel. It is by turns charming, long-winded, and unexpectedly profound. Sunday fishermen will lap up its eel-catching lore, its stirring first-person accounts, and its eccentric historical anecdotes. Armchair naturalists will retire exhausted but happy from Fort's account of the eel's extraordinary life cycle (involving, among other things, an epic circumnavigation of the world). Of course, books of this sort usually end in tears. If your subject is the relationship people have with the natural world, you most often end up having to mourn the affair's recent passing--eradicated by one modern despoliation or another. Fort's book is no exception. Fort feels sure that the eel will survive man. But he wonders whether men will survive in a world where so much knowledge, lore and practice is being sacrificed in the name of industry. Fort believes passionately in craft, and in the kind of knowledge you can gain through the practice of craft. He contrasts this with the way science works, and is both sympathetic and very funny about science's limitations when it comes to answering questions about creatures as elusive and peculiar as his beloved eels. There are, Fort argues, many different kinds of knowledge. The scientific knowledge that informs industry is fine as far as it goes. But it's not enough to do justice to this remarkable creature.--Simon Ings

Review:

‘This is a captivating study…Tom Fort is incapable of writing a dull sentence.' Financial Times

‘A fascinating, beautifully written and deeply peculiar book.’ New Scientist

‘In this wonderful book, Tom Fort elevates Anguilla anguilla from the lowly to the exalted…The Book of Eels is a delightful surprise; Fort does wonders with his esoteric and fascinating subject.’ The Times

‘What a joy, a whole book on eels. It’s a very good book too, and a very English book…I suppose it is inevitable that somone will call this book ‘enchanting’. Take no notice. Buy it anyway. Give it to someone you like or, for even more fun, to someone you don’t.’ Spectator

‘Tom Fort is the Alan Bennett of the angling scene.’ Literary Review

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