Fishing How the Sea Fed Civilization Brian Fagan

Publication date:
24 Oct 2017
Yale University Press
368 pages: 235 x 156 x 25mm
39 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Humanity’s last major source of food from the wild, and how it enabled and shaped the growth of civilization

In this history of fishing—not as sport but as sustenance—archaeologist and best-selling author Brian Fagan argues that fishing was an indispensable and often overlooked element in the growth of civilization. It sustainably provided enough food to allow cities, nations, and empires to grow, but it did so with a different emphasis. Where agriculture encouraged stability, fishing demanded movement. It frequently required a search for new and better fishing grounds; its technologies, centered on boats, facilitated movement and discovery; and fish themselves, when dried and salted, were the ideal food—lightweight, nutritious, and long-lasting—for traders, travelers, and conquering armies. This history of the long interaction of humans and seafood tours archaeological sites worldwide to show readers how fishing fed human settlement, rising social complexity, the development of cities, and ultimately the modern world.

Brian Fagan, emeritus professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of the world’s leading archaeological writers. His books include Fish on Friday, The Little Ice Age, and the best-selling The Great Warming.

“A tour-de-force. . . achieves its goal of putting fishing on par with hunter-gathering and agriculture in the history of human civilisation.”—Leon Vlieger, Natural History Book Service

“Fishing is a valuable book as well as an interesting one. It shows vividly how human civilisations have depended on harvests from the sea. . . Fagan succeeds in providing an admirable primer for the enthusiast and a welcome tool for the historian.”—Economist

“The book is packed to the gills with information about fishing practices across time and place…”—Megan Elias, Global Food History

“This book is by all means a must read for any person interested in humans, environment, and the sea.”—Konrad A. Antczak, Historical Archaeology

“[An] excellent book”—Kaori O’Connor, American Historical Review

"Brian Fagan’s compelling treatise reveals the vital role of fish and shellfish in the rise of human civilizations. A stunning achievement."—William H. Marquardt, Florida Museum of Natural History

“From simple technology and subsistence to sophisticated trawlers harvesting for global distribution, fishing has shaped economies, diets and empires. This compelling narrative is a must read for everyone interested in humanity’s journey, as seen through the use of its last remaining wild food resource.”—Sophia Perdikaris, Brooklyn College and GC CUNY

"A vastly illuminating, deep and worldwide history of fishing and marine foraging. We’ve waited a long time for an archaeologist of Brian Fagan’s breadth and leaning to show us that fishing is as important as farming in the story of mankind."—James C. Scott, author of Seeing Like a State