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Consider the Eel

By Richard Schweid

200 pp., 5.5 x 8, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1513-4
    Published: March 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9926-7
    Published: March 2010

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Awards & distinctions

Winner, Best Sci-Tech Books for General Readers, 2002, Library Journal

Journalist Richard Schweid first learned the strange facts of the freshwater eel's life from a fisherman in a small Spanish town just south of Valencia. "The eeler who explained the animal's life cycle to me did so as he served up an eel he had just taken from a trap, killed, cleaned, and cooked in olive oil in an earthenware dish," writes Schweid. "I ate it with a chunk of fresh, crusty bread. It was delicious. I was immediately fascinated."

As this engaging culinary and natural history reveals, the humble eel is indeed an amazing creature. Every European and American eel begins its life in the Sargasso Sea--a vast, weedy stretch of deep Atlantic waters between Bermuda and the Azores. Larval eels drift for up to three years until they reach the rivers of North America or Europe, where they mature and live as long as two decades before returning to the Sargasso to mate and die. Eels have never been bred successfully in captivity.

Consulting fisherfolk, cooks, and scientists, Schweid takes the reader on a global tour to reveal the economic and gastronomic importance of eel in places such as eastern North Carolina, Spain, Northern Ireland, England, and Japan. (While this rich yet mild-tasting fish has virtually disappeared from U.S. tables, over $2 billion worth of eel is still eagerly consumed in Europe and Asia each year.) The book also includes recipes, both historic and contemporary, for preparing eel.

About the Author

Richard Schweid was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and now lives in Barcelona, Spain, where he is senior editor of the magazine Barcelona Metropolitan. His popular books include Catfish and the Delta: Confederate Fish Farming in the Mississippi Delta, Hot Peppers: The Story of Cajuns and Capsicum, and The Cockroach Papers: A Compendium of History and Lore.
For more information about Richard Schweid, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Everything you always wanted to know about eels. . . . Will delight anyone with a taste for natural history. . . . Schweid is just as interested in the nexus of eel and humankind. A good portion of Consider the Eel is spent not with eels but with those who catch, sell and--to a somewhat lesser extent--eat them."--New York Times Book Review

"[An] engaging look at an important food fish. . . . Schweid delves into both the science and the folklore surrounding this fish."--Booklist

"Schweid helps us realize what a strange and fascinating little fish the eel is. . . . Schweid writes with clarity and enthusiasm, combining elementary biology with recipes from England, Europe, and America, historical notes on fishing and cooking, and present-day interviews with fishers and others."--Library Journal

"In Consider the Eel, Richard Schweid exploits that curiosity so often associated with subjects that engender both fear and fascination. . . . The account of eel biology that emerges at various points in Schweid's book is a tribute to his wide and up-to-date reading. . . . Much of the charm of Consider the Eel is that Richard Schweid imparts his freshly acquired knowledge in the words of those directly involved in the industry. . . . Those who fish for or deal in eels . . . are a secretive bunch, and it says much for Schweid's professionalism and underlying sympathy that he was able to extract so much colour and interest from the men and women he sought out. . . . Richard Schweid has given us a perceptive, contemporary snapshot of their changing world. The result is a fine piece of archival writing. . . . No fishery enthusiast should be without it."--Times Literary Supplement

"Richard Schweid's growing number of fans will be delighted by his new book Consider the Eel. . . . [It] may be his best work yet. With wit and enthusiasm, Schweid tells the story of a fascinating creature. . . . Schweid is a curious naturalist, a compassionate sociologist and a fine writer. . . . His books are a wonderful blend of travel narrative, natural history, sociology and pure writing. Each literate, adventurous outing seems more quirky and personal and imaginative than the last. And the craftsmanship just gets better and better--precise observation, dry wit, impassioned reporting without a hint of polemic."--Book Page

"Anyone with a curiosity about the sea will find Schweid's taste of the eel strangely appealing."--Publishers Weekly