Courtesy Ballantine Books

A Book About Northwest Salmon Culture Makes a Big Splash, But You Should Throw It Back

Langdon Cook’s ‘Upstream’ goes swimmingly when it isn’t drowning in small, bad writing choices.

Mark Kurlansky’s nonfiction book about cod, titled Cod, is a critically praised bestseller bordering on modern-classic status. It’s easy to forget that when Cod was released in 1997, nobody expected a book about a goddamned fish, of all things, to change the course of publishing. But Cod kicked off a craze of popular books devoted to the history of everyday objects—Kurlansky’s Salt followed soon after, and other books about screwdrivers and paper and rats tumbled down the pipeline. (It should be noted that all these owe a debt to John McPhee’s exquisite Oranges, published a full three decades before Cod.)

When Cod was still topping bestseller lists, though, many Northwesterners took offense at Kurlansky’s choice of starring fish. Why would he choose one as drab and plain as cod when the mighty salmon, which lived at the very center of Northwestern culture for centuries before white people ever set foot out here, had never had a book devoted to it?

It took two full decades, but the salmon response has finally arrived. Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table does much the same work as Cod, looking into the environmental, cultural, and culinary impact of wild salmon versus salmon farming. It leaps back into the past, delves into the science, and follows the food chain from fishermen to fancy restaurants. Even better, it’s by Seattle journalist Langdon Cook, who has written extensively and well about mushrooms.

Unfortunately, Upstream is kind of … well … the truth is, it’s pretty rough.

Read the rest of this review in the print edition of Seattle Weekly or online here at Seattle Review of Books. Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

More in Arts & Culture

Evan Flory-Barnes (center) preps for On Loving the Muse and Family with his therapist. Photo by Shasta Bree
Working It Out

Evan Flory-Barnes is finally stepping into the theatrical spotlight. All it took was some therapy.

The family of <em>Hir</em>. Photo by John McLellan
The Sunset of Masculinity

Hir at ArtsWest gives trans voices a stage to dismantle the normative.

Robert Colescott, <em>George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook</em>, 1975, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 108 in. Courtesy Seattle Art Museum, photo by Jean Paul Torno
Re-Presenting Black History in Art

Seattle museums look to foster a conversation with their spring visual art exhibits.

Paula Madrigal teaches young Latinx musicians via her Young String Project Outreach. Photo by Ted Zee
Ballard Civic Orchestra Gives Seattle a Latinx Orchestral Voice

Led by immigrant Paula Madrigal’s strong vision, the group reaches audiences both young and old.

Photo Courtesy Chuff Media
                                Lorde.
Spring Arts 2018 Critics’ Picks

Plan out your calendar with our selections for the season’s best entertainment events.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Photo by Ani Collier
The Bleeding of Ballet

Technique and transgression fill stages this spring as two styles become one.

Illustration by Taylor Dow
Social Studies

A solar eclipse in Aquarius reveals what’s next.

Chawick Boseman as Black Panther. Photo courtesy Marvel Studios
Serious Power

Black Panther builds a stunning sci-fi African world, but could use more comic book fun.

Most Read