‘A wonderful and important book, that from its first pages draws the reader along on a fascinating, gripping, often funny journey.’ Robert Macfarlane, bestselling author of Underland.
An idiosyncratic history of our island story told through five iconic fish
On these rain-swept islands in the North Atlantic man and fish go back a long way. Fish are woven through the fabric of the country’s history: we depend on them – for food, for livelihood and for fun – and now their fate depends on us in a relationship which has become more complex, passionate and precarious in the sophisticated 21st Century.
In Silver Shoals Charles Rangeley-Wilson travels north, south, east and west through the British Isles tracing the histories, living and past, of our most iconic fish – cod, carp, eels, salmon and herring – and of the fishermen who catch them and care for them.
In the company of trawlermen, longshoremen, conservationists and anglers Charles goes to sea in a trawler, whiles away hot afternoons setting eel nets, tries to bag his first elusive carp and drifts for herring on Guy Fawkes night as fireworks starburst the sky.
Underscoring this journey is a fascinating historical exploration of these creatures that have shaped our island story. We learn how abundant and valued these fish were centuries before our current crisis of over-fishing: we learn how eels built our monasteries, how cod sank the Spanish Armada, how fish and chips helped us through two World Wars.
Of course there is a deeper environmental dimension to the story, but Charles' optimistic perspective is this: no one is more invested in fish than the fishermen whose lives depend on them. If we can find a way to harness that passion then the future of fish and fishermen in Britain could be as extraordinary as its past.
At once history and elegy, Silver Shoals leads its readers from silent lakes to roiling seas in search of the fish on which Britain has always depended. A bracingly recounted and often melancholy quest, ending on a note of optimism.
Rangely-Wilson, an angler and East Anglian, reconnects us though this enjoyable fish-catching pilgrimage to the vast plenty of herring, cod, eel and salmon that once existed around Britain's shores and in our rivers; a plenty which can return to a significant extent if more people are conscious of that past, understand its lessons and take the common-sense steps necessary to bring abundance back again.
A wonderful and important book, that from its first pages draws the reader along on a fascinating, gripping, often funny journey. It binds this wide, wise book too tightly, I think, to call it "nature writing" (whatever that is these days anyway). Many kinds of writing shoal together here - cultural history, natural history, travelogue, ecology, politics - to form a brilliant and glittering whole.
[Charles Rangeley-Wilson] summarises the individual fish biographers with wonderful clarity while also managing to illuminate how gloriously entangled his subjects are with human history… [a] wonderfully insightful book
Silver Shoals glints with lovely details… And any book that can come up with the precise date when the first pan of fish and chips was served gets my vote