Regular price: $31.47

Free with 30-day trial
Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month
OR
In Cart

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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

Overall

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    40
  • 4 Stars
    26
  • 3 Stars
    11
  • 2 Stars
    4
  • 1 Stars
    5

Performance

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    23
  • 4 Stars
    10
  • 3 Stars
    9
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    0

Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    24
  • 4 Stars
    15
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    0
Sort by:
  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 11-14-14

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.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Cynthia
  • Lake Linden , MI, USA
  • 07-05-05

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.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Roland
  • Henrico, VA, United States
  • 07-04-05

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 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Not Dated

I don't know what kind of reading this book would have made, but it made for very good listening. I suppose fish stories should be 'told' after all, and I suspect the author sensed this, because he did the narretion hiimself, and his voice was a good fit.

I expected a somewhat scientific treatment, so I was surprised at all the fishing, and, though I don't fish, it was engaging (I haven't fished since childhood - fresh water perch in Michigan's Lake St. Clair - usually hooking a hundred an outing back in the mid-1960's) (along with my thumbs).

Curiously, when his local was near where I live now (the Delaware Basin), it tugged at some long-lost primal urge to go fish.

So it was quite listenable - good while multi-tasking.He covered a lot of ground, from fishing in various locales to tbe issue of Dams to gear to cooking to tournaments to museums to oil rigs, and even to PETA, in an unbiased manner.

Surprising was finding out why he named the book "The Founding Fish".

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

for fishermen only

What would have made The Founding Fish better?

less anecdotes

Has The Founding Fish turned you off from other books in this genre?

no

How did the narrator detract from the book?

diction was odd, the way he finished words sounded odd

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Founding Fish?

all his personal accounts of fishing

Any additional comments?

Kurlander wrote Cod without being boring

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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.

  • Overall

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