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From the award-winning author of The Mushroom Hunters comes the story of an iconic fish, perhaps the last great wild food: salmon.
For some, a salmon evokes the distant wild, thrashing in the jaws of a hungry grizzly bear on TV. For others, it's the catch of the day on a restaurant menu, or a deep red fillet at the market. For others still, it's the jolt of adrenaline on a successful fishing trip. Our fascination with these superlative fish is as old as humanity itself. Long a source of sustenance among native peoples, salmon is now more popular than ever. Fish hatcheries and farms serve modern appetites with a domesticated "product" – while wild runs of salmon dwindle across the globe. How has this once-abundant resource reached this point, and what can we do to safeguard wild populations for future generations?
Langdon Cook goes in search of the salmon in Upstream, his timely and in-depth look at how these beloved fish have nourished humankind through the ages and why their destiny is so closely tied to our own. Cook journeys up and down salmon country, from the glacial rivers of Alaska to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to California's drought-stricken Central Valley and a wealth of places in between. Reporting from remote coastlines and busy city streets, he follows today's commercial pipeline from fisherman's net to corporate seafood vendor to boutique marketplace. At stake is nothing less than an ancient livelihood.
But salmon are more than food. They are game fish, wildlife spectacle, sacred totem, and inspiration – and their fate is largely in our hands. Cook introduces us to tribal fishermen handing down an age-old tradition, sport anglers seeking adventure and a renewed connection to the wild, and scientists and activists working tirelessly to restore salmon runs. In sharing their stories, Cook covers all sides of the debate: the legacy of overfishing and industrial development; the conflicts between fishermen, environmentalists, and Native Americans; the modern proliferation of fish hatcheries and farms; and the longstanding battle lines of science versus politics, wilderness versus civilization.
This firsthand account – reminiscent of the work of John McPhee and Mark Kurlansky – is filled with the keen insights and observations of the best narrative writing. Cook offers an absorbing portrait of a remarkable fish and the many obstacles it faces, while taking readers on a fast-paced fishing trip through salmon country. Upstream is an essential look at the intersection of man, food, and nature.
Langdon Cook is the author of The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award, and Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager. His writing has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, and online journals. A nominee for the 2016 James Beard Award, Cook lives in Seattle.
"Exposing striking human-salmon parallels, these stories tell of settlement and cultural clashes, of life cycles and migrations, of deforestation and industrial agriculture, of racism and gentrification, and [Langdon] Cook skillfully illustrates the interconnectedness of it all. Seeking the wild in a landscape fraught with man-made alteration and annihilation, the author interrogates the nature of wildness, posing urgent, provocative questions [...] Blurring boundaries and complicating the oversimplified, Cook provides a moving, artfully layered story of strength and vulnerability, offering glimpses of hope for growing humility and reverence and for shifting human-nature relationships."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Langdon Cook delivers a beautifully written portrait of the iconic salmon that blends history, biology, contentious politics, and the joy of fishing into a captivating and thought-provoking tale. Like a great meal, Upstream is thrilling, deeply satisfying, and memorable. After reading it, you will understand why salmon are worth fighting for."
– Eric Jay Dolin, author of Brilliant Beacons
"Salmon are the essence of the Pacific Northwest, and as Langdon Cook shows so powerfully, they are the key to its future. From the wild flats of Alaska's Copper River to the straitjacketed creeks of California, Upstream captures the myriad ways people and salmon are deeply intertwined. To read this book is to see through Cook's sharp eyes the tragedy, mystery, and promise of this magnificent fish we quite literally can't afford to lose."
– Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Essential Oyster
"In this fresh tale of an ancient wonder, Langdon Cook takes us on an inspired journey of discovery through the heart and soul of salmon country, introducing us to the charismatic fish and people behind the meal."
– David R. Montgomery, author of King of Fish and Growing a Revolution
"Even as salmon populations draw near the brink of collapse, salmon conservation is thriving in the twenty-first century. Upstream introduces the next generation of conservationists, more focused on science and collaboration as a pathway toward recovery than on lawsuits. In the process, Cook takes the reader on a thrilling adventure through the mountains, rivers, farmlands, and kitchens where progress, against all odds, is being made."
– Zeb Hogan, biologist and host of National Geographic Wild's Monster Fish