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Recommended book: World Without Fish

Makes “science” fun again and makes you care about our oceans and world and want to make a difference.

Recommended book: World Without Fish written by Mark Kurlansky, and illustrated by Frank Stockton, Workman Publishing, 2014, ISBN-10: 0761185003, ISBN-13: 978-0761185000, Paperback, 183 or so pages (No Kindle version listed) – Not just for “science geeks” this fun book grabs you and causes you to care once again about the ocean, its fish, and the world around us.

Looking for a great holiday present for a loved one, a child, a grandchild or for yourself? Check out this recommended book, “World without Fish” by Mark Kurlansky and Illustrated by Frank Stockton. It is a visual and literary feast helping to explain ecology, oceanography and the impact of overfishing, pollution and climate change of the living ocean(s). I appreciated that the book was written to be approachable by all ages (It says 9 and up on the back but a good reader who is a bit younger should still not have much trouble with it). It was a quick read (2-3 hours), and explained things well without getting too complicated for those who do not know much about the subject matter. The “graphic-novel” style layout and use of handwriting copy/quotes, as well as a 12-part comic book, and pull quotes with illustrations and explanations, all kept the book interesting. 

The main premise of the book is imagining a world without fish. It then goes on to describe how easy it is to put a biosphere in jeopardy without intending to, by overfishing and assuming that the ocean is an unlimited resource that naturally replenishes itself. This was due to observers seeing fish lay millions of eggs in the past, and the large, seemingly inexhaustible catches that were made by fishermen. In reality, fish lay millions of eggs because so few survive to become adult fish. And if fish are netted by fishermen before they can spawn, the population is reduced. The book spends the majority of its time speaking about the “tragedy of the commons” in terms of fishing, and how nets, (especially bottom hugging nets) and motors changed the nature of fishing itself. A good balance is struck between fishermen and environmentalists and their shared interest, as well as where they both get things right.

A short critique of World Without Fish:

While the book addresses climate change and its impact, it does not spend much time on the subject. If you wish for more on that subject – You may have to look elsewhere. The opposite could be said about Charles Darwin. Quotes by Darwin and praise of him and explanations by him are on every other page, even when other scientists or specialists could have been quoted to make a much stronger book. All I can imagine is that the author wanted to keep it simple (Not quoting too many specialists/scientists), or that he is a really big fan of Darwin.


Some specific subjects discussed include:

  • The drastic reduction in cod and herring populations off the Eastern seaboard/Grand bank
  • Some ways fish could become “extinct” in our lifetime if we do not change our ways
  • Orange roughy and why it became a seafood staple
  • The interconnectedness of ocean life and how each step in the chain relies on smaller organisms/species to survive
  • Why fish farming is not a good answer
  • Why fisherman are forced to throw hundreds of pounds of dead fish back into the ocean
  • Fishing as a profession vs. scientists and how both need each other

In the back of the book are some good (if basic) suggestions on things you can do to help protect the future of ocean life, resources to learn more, nine steps towards building a movement, seven useful traits of an organizer, five things you can do to save the oceans, and more. Not to worry, the suggestions are not overly politicized or radical, but practical and reasonable. Greenpeace is listed in the back, but the author disagrees with their confrontational methods.


Some reviews on Amazon have argued against aspects of the science presented or claim that he overstates his case. For the most part, I felt it was balanced, and sounded a warning without being too dire a book, given its title and subject matter. I’m interested to know your opinion though!

Some images of the book “World Without Fish” follow:








To see more of Frank Stockton’s illustrative work check out


Where to buy it for yourself/give it as a gift:

“World Without Fish” lists for $14.95, but is available right now on Amazon for $8.07!


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