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Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish Hardcover – September 21, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ask your average North American: eels, those slimy snakelike creatures, are generally held in poor regard. For nature writer Prosek (Trout; Fly-Fishing the 41st), however, they are a compelling mystery, and in his riveting synthesis of cultural, geographical, and botanical sleuthing, he investigates their reputation at home and abroad. The author--for whom the eel was once merely bait for bass--delves into the closely held traditions of the Maori of New Zealand, where eels are revered; into the beliefs of the Micronesian island of Pohnpei, where eels are considered members of a tribal clan; into the heart of the largest seafood market in the world, in Japan, a nation that consumes more than 130,000 tons of eels each year; into the reclusive world of Eel Weir Hollow in the Catskills, where fisherman Ray traps and smokes as much as one ton of eels a season; and to the fabled Sargasso Sea, where eels are thought to start their trek to the world's lakes, rivers, and streams--though, even now, no one knows precisely where the world's population of eels spawns, an enduring scientific mystery awaiting a solution.
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From Booklist

The freshwater eel is born in the Sargasso Sea, makes its way at random to a freshwater stream in Europe or the U.S. (and doesn’t make a mistake and end up on the wrong continent), and after many years makes its way back to the Sargasso to spawn and die. A baffling fish, there are 15 species of freshwater eels found all over the world. Prosek (Trout: An Illustrated History, 1996) points out that eels are not an easy fish to like; they’re snakelike and don’t act like normal fish (they can slither through the grass on wet nights to find food or new bodies of water). But his fascination with eels took him to New Zealand, where the longfin eel can live more than 100 years and grow to more than 80 pounds. Eels are big business in Japan. The tale of Ray Turner, a man who still fishes for eels the traditional way with a hand-built weir, is at the heart of the book, tying the mythology, the mystery, and the commerce of eels together into his story. --Nancy Bent

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First edition (September 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060566116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060566111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Prosek is a writer and artist whose books include Trout: An Illustrated History; Joe and Me: An Education in Fishing and Friendship; The Complete Angler: A Connecticut Yankee Follows in the Footsteps of Walton; and Fly-Fishing the 41st. He lives in Easton, Connecticut.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I personally found this to be an extremely fascinating read. The book of course is about eels; a fish that we really know very little about. But the book covers so much more that just this primary subject.

The author takes us from the United States, to New Zeeland and on to the orient and then the Polynesian Island. This work is not merely the study of a specific species of fish; it is also the study of a number of indigenous peoples around the world and their interaction with eels, both as a food source and that of a spiritual nature.

This work takes us unto the world of eels; eels as food, eels as religious symbols (for more than one culture) and eels as another indicator of the problems we are having in our environment.

The author has done what I would consider a good job on his research, but must admit that my endorsement in this area is rather shaky, as I knew absolutely nothing of eels before reading this work. My only encounter with one of their tribe is when I accidently caught on fishing near the coast in Virginia a number of years ago and spent ten minutes dancing around like my head was in fire trying to figure out how I was going to get the thing off the hook without injuring either the eel or myself. Anyway, I took the author's word as to the facts and figures he presented.

The book is well written and is an easy and enjoyable read. My only objection to the work, an this is purely personal, is that I would have like to have read a bit more about the actual eels and less about their impact on some of the cultures addressed in the book. Others may find this a good thing though.

As with most books of this nature lately, I finished it and found myself more than a bit depressed. It would seem that we humans are mucking up the world of eels and if things keep going in the current direction, we may soon only be able to read about yet another extinct animal.

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on September 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I think most people know that salmon are born in freshwater rivers and migrate to the oceans where they spend their lives before returning to the river of their birth to spawn. But who knew that freshwater eels do the exact opposite? They're born in the ocean and then find their way into freshwater rivers around the world. They'll spend their lives - perhaps as long as 50 to 100 years - in those freshwater rivers before migrating back to the place of their birth in the ocean to spawn and die. Interestingly, however, no one has seen them spawning and the locations aren't precisely known (American and European eels spawn somewhere in the Sargasso Sea, and scientists now think they've found the area where Japanese eels spawn). Nor is it known how they find their way there, or how they find their way into the many rivers where they spend their lives.

Having recently enjoyed Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg, this book caught my eye. Author James Prosek has travelled extensively studying eels and their place in various cultures - the Maori in New Zealand, the east coast of the US, Japan, and the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia (missing is Europe). However - and in contrast to Four Fish - he focuses mostly on the cultural (or perhaps it would be more correct to say "ethnological") aspects of the eel and the book frequently takes a mystical approach to the subject. The chapters on the Maori were especially long (and tedious) with a multitude of personal stories and their reverence for the eel.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
James Prosek writes an entertaining, fact filled anthology of the Eel in world culture. For the uninitiated, this work is an excellent introduction to the Eel and its effect on the minds and mouths of people. James Prosek really does his homework for this book going from the Sargasso Sea and Danish Researchers funded by Carlsberg Brewing in Denmark, all the way to the South Pacific including an excellent very detailed description of The Eel and Maori culture. He touches base with the European Eel Fishery and the people involved in it. He spends a good deal of time with a Gentleman called Ray on the east branch of the Delaware River and the operation of an Eel weir including its makeup and maintenance. Ray goes so far as to describe his weir as a woman, with analagous anatomical parts. This is done in a very clean, matter of fact fashion.The Black and White Illustrations in the book are superb.
To many people, and I believe James Prosek himself, the Eel is a spiritual fish. Eels have inspired mankind the world over and provided the spark for a great deal of theology in world culture. This is not unique to particular groups such as the Maori, but can be found in groups the world over. The Uroboros is very likely originally an Eel because snakes normally coil and do not form single circles. I have seen Eels form a circle. I recall a time around 35 years ago when I caught a fairly large (36") Eel in the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania. My first thought was it was just another Eel. I looked at it and it looked back at me almost like it had a personality. I told my Father I wanted to let it go. However he wanted me to give it away to an elderly Italian friend of his. We put it in the bag and away it went. Sweet white meat- it was delicious.
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