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The Founding Fish | [John McPhee]

The Founding Fish

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.
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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.

©2002 John McPhee; (P)2002 Recorded Books

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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (52 )
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4.4 (13 )
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3.9 (14 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Cynthia Lake Linden , MI, USA 07-05-05
    Cynthia Lake Linden , MI, USA 07-05-05
    HELPFUL VOTES
    34
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    "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.

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roland Henrico, VA, United States 07-04-05
    Roland Henrico, VA, United States 07-04-05 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "asleep in the deep"

    John McPhee's books often start slow, but become steadily more and more interesting and informative as you go along. The Founding Fish mixes his obsession with fishing for shad with info on this amazing little fish, and it's importance in American History. Unfortunately the reader sounds like the slow kid in your third grade reading circle, making McPhee's slow story development unbearable. I can't get through it even after 4 determined tries. If you like McPhee, try The Pine Barrens, or Oranges, or Basin and Range, or The Delta Pumkinseed.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anna Karenina Dallas, TX, United States 08-21-06
    Anna Karenina Dallas, TX, United States 08-21-06 Member Since 2005
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    "bad audio"

    I just started this, and the reader (John McPhee) sounds awful. The sound engineers should have edited out all the breathing noises and the sound of his tongue arranging itself in his mouth. Awful. I'd really like to get my money back. My fault, I guess, because I didn't listen to the preview.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine New Orleans, LA, United States 04-02-11
    Catherine New Orleans, LA, United States 04-02-11 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Know what you are getting into"

    Hearing an author read his or her own work seems always to be somewhat of a trade off. You can hear a deeper connection with the material but the overall quality of the reading is not equal to some of the more skilled and practiced readers of audiobooks. It is clear that John McPhee is obsessed with shad. With such a long book on one subject I hoped for more history and cultural history (there is some) along with all the fish stories. Too much detail on things like shad skeletons and ichthyology for me. In printed format I could have easily skimmed those parts. In audiobook format that dull minutiae was unavoidable.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard Los Osos, CA, United States 05-08-13
    Richard Los Osos, CA, United States 05-08-13 Listener Since 2010
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    "McPhee Drills Down"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would heartily recommend this to someone who loves to fish or to any devoted McPhee advocate. I happen to fit both of those checkboxes, but this book is probably not McPhee's best. The author still has juju: he still flares his unique ability to drill down into witty detail at the most unexpected moments like a peacock revealing a jeweled fan. Which is still highly alluring. Unless fishing just isn't your thing.


    Would you ever listen to anything by John McPhee again?

    Always and ever.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    The author narrated this, and he's very good at it. There are some annoying repetitive oratory pops in some sections that endure for entire chapters as if the speaker had a very dry mouth, but hearing him narrate his own book brings the listener closer in. The pace of the story seemed to stray occasionally into dry turf. Overall, the telepathic process of his writing was able to build grand pictures of the subject in my imagination.


    Did The Founding Fish inspire you to do anything?

    Certainly. I can't wait to see a shad rise to a dry fly set in an a New England river some day.


    Any additional comments?

    Read it if you're a piscophile. Read it if you like McPhee's style.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melvin S Stanforth Greenville, NC, US 01-17-10
    Melvin S Stanforth Greenville, NC, US 01-17-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Happy Happy Shad"

    McPhee at his absolute best! American Shad at its absolute best. Spell binding tale of the mastery
    needed to hook American Shad, you WILL be hooked, even if you don't have the habit of fishing. If you
    do have the habit, and you do have the good fortune
    to hunt for The American Shad, these tales will make you wiser and crazier about the American Shad in our coastal waters. Good Luck

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
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