It has been frequently said of John McPhee that he can interest readers in anything that catches his attention. The American shad--a species beloved of sportsmen since George Washington--provides the remarkable focus of The Founding Fish, its every specimen carrying its autobiography within its scales and coursing through the water routes of U.S. political history.
Shad, which dwell in both fresh and salt water, are the aquatic heralds of spring, making their annual entrance into North American freshwater bays and swimming upstream heroic distances to spawn in the headwaters of rivers, returning, if exhaustion is survived, with their young to roam the wide ocean for the rest of the year. McPhee begins the journey, appropriately, in the Delaware River, the only major eastern river never to have been dammed, which makes it a favorite of fish hypersensitive to abnormal disruptions of current. An innate wariness of change makes the shad a particular challenge for fishermen and a perfect lens for McPhee's broad investigation into natural history and early American life.
McPhee profiles and travels with a fish behaviourist, an aquaculturist, and several fly fishermen, discussing the ethical matters of tidal power and catch-and-release campaigns, all the while telling the story of the increasingly revelatory role that shad has played in the history of the continent. He follows and studies the fish from Maritime Canada to the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo in Alabama, uncovering its unique connections to Thoreau, Thomas Eakins, and John Wilkes Booth.
In The Founding Fish, McPhee navigates the most formative ideas and eras of a nation and proves again that nature is the best record of and entry into human drama--a drama that is as well-searing as the recipe that closes the book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John McPhee is the author of 26 books, including Annals of the Former World, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1965 and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.