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The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket Hardcover – May 29, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060883502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060883508
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Corson (The Secret Life of Lobsters) spent months at a "sushi school" run out of a Japanese restaurant in Hermosa Beach, Calif., observing the students as they learned how to prepare a seemingly endless variety of fish. Although the reporting focuses primarily on Kate, a young woman who struggles to overcome her lack of confidence, many of the other students get a turn in the spotlight, as do the restaurant's owner and the head instructor. This would make for a riveting enough story on its own, but Corson beautifully intersperses the drama with lessons about the history and science of each fish the class encounters, along with the rice and wasabi. He also reveals that just about everything Americans know about eating sushi is wrong, down to using chopsticks to dunk their fish in soy sauce. Foodies will find dozens of useful tips to enhance their appreciation of "the fast food of old Tokyo," especially if they entrust an experienced chef to prepare an omakase meal for them. The combination of culinary insights and personal drama makes for one of the more compelling food-themed books in recent years.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Americans from as recently as 20 years ago would be astounded to learn that the present generation would regularly sit down to a meal consisting principally of raw fish. Today, it's hard to find an American city that does not host at least one thriving sushi bar, and even some supermarkets feature a take-home sushi section. Following a student through the program of the decade-old California Sushi Academy, Corson uncovers the history of sushi, from its humble beginnings in Japan to its present worldwide ubiquity. Starting from Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, sushi initially attracted a celebrity following intrigued by sushi's novelty and minimalism. Stateside sushi chefs invented new varieties keyed to American proclivities and ingredients and, in a wanton affront to tradition, began to violate the inflexible male-only order of skilled sushi chefs. Americans may still drench their rice with too much soy sauce, but their hunger for more and better-quality sushi keeps on growing. Knoblauch, Mark
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

I highly recommend this book for its obvious audience: those who love sushi.
Rabid Reader
The book uses an interesting style to weave together the story arc of Kate with the history and technical aspects of sushi.
And all of this is told as part of a story about real students at California Sushi Academy.
Mike Wickham

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Graeme from Waltham, MA on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Zen of Fish is built around the story of a group of people attending California's first sushi-chef school, but there's a lot more to the book than that. Using the class as a framework, Corson presents the history of sushi, starting as a way to preserve fish, and its transformation into its present form, first in Japan and later in California. Along the way, he discusses different kinds of fish, how they are caught or farmed, and how they are cooked or presented raw. And this is accompanied by a taste of Japanese culture and vocabulary, and some of the science behind the preserving, cooking, tasting and eating of fish.

It is, like sushi, beautifully presented. The various threads of the book each make an interesting story, and you'll learn something from each of them. I don't want to reduce the book to a tag line, but Corson's thoughtful tone will make you more thoughtful in preparing or eating fish -- a zen approach, if you like. Certainly you'll be a more thoughtful consumer of sushi, but there's also information that might make you a better fish cook, and more knowledgeable in considering the economy and ecological impact of fishing.

There's a cultural lesson to be learned in the way sushi has been Americanized on its way from Tokyo. Eating sushi in the United States can be helped by knowing more about Japanese practice, but it's a separate thing, not a copy. The sushi school in California makes that clear, with frantic weeks of training instead of the years of apprenticeship required in Japan. Being fluent in Japanese, Corson is in an excellent position to provide a balanced view of this, and the clarity of his writing helps you develop your own point of view.

I liked this book a lot. There's so much in the book that while I was reading it I felt as though I should be taking notes, but I didn't want to put it down. It's definitely a book worth coming back to.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Lu Y. Yang on May 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
After hearing Trevor Corson speak on the radio about sushi, I picked up his book because I wanted to learn more about one of my favorite foods. The Zen of Fish follows a new student through a sushi course at the California Sushi Academy. Mixed in with the story of the student and her classmates are historical facts and other information about things related to sushi such as fish, knives, rice, and etiquette.

While I was reading the book, I couldn't help feeling annoyed by the passages about Kate, the student going through the school. She's inept, clumsy, ditzy, and just not that interesting. I was more interested in the actual tidbits of information about sushi than Kate's classes.

I would have rated this book higher if it only contained the informational passages about the Japanese cuisine. Those parts were interesting and worth reading for anyone who likes sushi, but the other parts felt like a waste of time. Corson might have been trying to get readers to relate to Kate, but he would have been more successful if he had chosen a stronger student from the class to follow.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a book, I think, for lovers of the American-style sushi joint. This is for people who judge a hot new sushi place on the different and exciting kinds of rolls they serve, and for people who think a "Volcano Roll" or a "Mango Chutney Roll with Spicy Curry Sauce" sounds like a delectable treat.

On the other hand, if the words "Edo mae," "Otoro" or "Omakase" have any meaning to you, if the yellow insides of a sea urchin start your mouth drooling instead of gagging, you are probably best off staying away.

Trevor Corson's "The Story of Sushi" is not a pure history book, but instead flip-flops between sushi history in Japan and its development in the US and between telling the story of a class of students enrolled at the California Sushi Academy. The California Sushi Academy offers a 12-week course that circumvents the traditional multi-year apprenticeship system of Japan and delivers sushi-bar ready sushi chefs who are able to meet the current high demand at US restaurants.

From amongst the students Corson chose to follow Kate as his main character. A young woman of around twenty, Kate lacks confidence, has an unspecified eating disorder, is shy and inward, is terrified of her own sushi knives, has no cooking skills and is disgusted at the idea of touching a raw fish, much less cutting one. Directionless and unsure of herself, Kate borrowed money from her parents to attend the sushi school on somewhat of a whim, hoping for a career where she could socialize with customers as her main concern.

Kate is where the book starts, with chapter one, page one, and Kate is where the book fell apart for me.
Read more ›
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By CaterpillarGirl VINE VOICE on November 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I gobbled down this book, as if it were a nice square plate full of my favorite sushi rolls. I have been eating sushi since I was a child, and was never taught the correct way to eat it. I was one of those people who mixed wasabi with soy, or put more wasabi on when it was already correctly measured out for me by the chef! I had no idea the origins of the components that make up "sushi", or what it took to become a certified sushi chef. I have new found admiration, on top of the dizzying awe I already had for anyone who can put together the delicacies I so love to eat. Reading it I got so hungry for everything that was described, especially for the special rolls that Kate was so good at making.
It was fascinating to hear about how westerners like their sushi, and how Japanese connoisseurs prefer theirs. It has made me think twice about my own palate and what my taste buds run to.
I myself could never go through what these students went through because I am notorious for chopping off hunks of my own flesh when handling sharp knives. It's a wonderful book, I read it in one sitting , you wont be able to put it down!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews

More About the Author

As a writer Trevor has been drawn to some of the most fundamental subjects of life: food, sex, science, religion, race, war. He has reported from restaurant kitchens, worked as a commercial fisherman, lived among Buddhist priests in Japan, followed marine biologists onto research ships, witnessed popular uprisings in China, and observed pornography shoots in Los Angeles. He has written about topics as diverse as the history of aerial bombing, the ethics of organ transplants, sustainable seafood, hybrid cars, Nordic social policies, and economic reform and military policy in Asia for publications including the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe.

Trevor's first book, The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean, began as a centerpiece article in the Atlantic that was included in the Best American Science Writing edited by Oliver Sacks. The Secret Life of Lobsters was a Barnes & Noble Discover Award winner and was named a Best Nature Book of the Year by USA Today and Discover and a Best Book of the Year by Time Out New York, and went on to become a worldwide bestseller in the popular-science category. As part of his research for the book, Trevor worked for two years as a full-time crew member on a Maine lobster boat.

Trevor's second book, The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice, was selected as an Editors' Choice by the New York Times Book Review; it was also named a Best Food Book of the Year by Zagat and the Best American Food Literature Book of the Year by the Gourmand Awards. To research the book, Trevor followed a group of apprentice American sushi chefs through their training and consulted previously untranslated Japanese sources.

Trevor began his career in writing as an editorial assistant at the Atlantic, and went on to serve for three years as the managing editor of the literary magazine Transition, published by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and K. Anthony Appiah at Harvard University. During Trevor's tenure at Transition, the magazine won three consecutive Alternative Press Awards for International Reporting and was nominated for a National Magazine Award in General Excellence.

Trevor is currently a teaching fellow in the writing program at Columbia University in New York City, where he serves on a curriculum development team and teaches writing classes in the core curriculum. He has been an adjunct professor at The New School, a faculty member at Brooklyn Friends School, and has taught writing workshops at the Key West Literary Seminar, the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University, and the Universities of Memphis and Miami. He gives talks around the country and has worked as the only "sushi concierge" in the United States, hosting educational sushi dinners at the Michelin-starred Jewel Bako restaurant in New York City. Trevor has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, ABC World News with Charles Gibson, NPR's All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation, and Food Network's Iron Chef America, as well as numerous other television and radio programs.

For more information, please visit Trevor's website at

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