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The Future of the Last Wild Food

A-Four FishPaul Greenberg's environmental writing regularly appears in several major publications. He is also the author of the novel Leaving Katya (2002).

The Topic: Many Western eaters are familiar with the conditions in factory farms or aware of the effects of monoculture on soil. But the fish of the sea still seem a wild source of food, perhaps because of the way they are caught, or perhaps because of the immense size of the planet's oceans. In Four Fish, Greenberg, using global economic, ecological, and historical perspectives, shows that food from the sea will soon be as domesticated as any land-based source, with potentially devastating consequences. Following the story of salmon, cod, sea bass, and tuna from spawning in the wild to digesting in the human stomach, Greenberg shows readers how our appetite for these four fish may be seriously altering the ocean environment. Encouragingly, he also makes suggestions about what we can do about it.
Penguin. 304 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594202568

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The relentless overexploitation of the oceans' fish is a sad story. But Four Fish isn't a finger-pointing jeremiad. It's a literate and carefully marshaled argument explaining how things came to be as they are today, and what humankind might do to remedy the situation." John Alden

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"As Greenberg follows his four species, and our pursuit of them, farther and farther out into the ocean, he posits the sense of privilege we should feel in consuming wild fish, along with the necessity of aquaculture. ... [Four Fish] is a necessary book for anyone truly interested in what we take from the sea to eat, and how, and why." Sam Sifton

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Even if you've read Cod, Tuna: A Love Story, King of Fish or Striper Wars, you'll still be hooked by Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. ... [It] is a good place to start schooling yourself on how to make sure there will always be another fish in the sea." David Helvarg

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Greenberg's saga, and his voice, are irresistible. ... Greenberg doesn't have all the answers, but he's done his homework exceptionally well and written an engrossing and important book. Four Fish is needed food for thought." Craig Welch

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"[An] elegantly composed and strikingly level-headed inquiry into our relationship with the fish we eat and the waters that sustain them. ... [Greenberg] argues that careful and responsible farming of suitable species is the only way to meet global demand for fish and that--given careful conservation--this could be supplemented by controlled, small-scale exploitation of wild species, including cod and Pacific salmon." Tom Fort

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The story of overfishing has often been told, though seldom this well. ... In writing clearly and engagingly about the place of fish in global food markets, he manages also to convey the often-missed reality that fish are not just food, or even animals, but wildlife." Thomas Hayden

Globe and Mail 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Greenberg's thesis is a compelling one. We are doing the same thing to fish that we have done in the past to mammals and birds: selecting a handful of desirable species for domestication and abandoning the rest to gradual extinction." Wayne Grady

Critical Summary

Many of the critics called upon to review Paul Greenberg's Four Fish are themselves environmental writers or experts of some kind. It is a measure of the book's quality that even those who significantly disagreed with Greenberg endorsed Four Fish as one of the best primers for readers who want to learn how the seafood they eat relates to the future of the ocean. Their support may result from Greenberg's pragmatic solutions for improving aquaculture and avoidance of ideological confrontation. But reviewers also emphasized that even those who know a great deal about this subject will enjoy the narratives Greenberg shares as he follows the fates of his four fish.