|Men's Lives is well-known author Peter Matthiessen's homage
to the fishermen who have contributed so much to the character of the South
Fork of Long Island, New York.
The title of the book is taken from the quotation of Sir Walter Scott "It's not fish ye're buying, it's men's lives" and it is a revealing introduction to the text, which is a detailed and sympathetic history of these fishing communities from the early Sixteenth century to the late Twentieth.
In Mr. Matthiessen's preface he says of his subjects "Full-time baymen - there are scarcely one hundred left on the South Fork - must also be competent boatmen, net men, carpenters and mechanics, and most could make good money at a trade, but they value independence over security, preferring to work on their own schedule, responsible only to their own families. Protective of their freedom to the point of stubborness, wishing only to be left alone, they have never asked for and never received direct subsidies from town or county, state or federal government." He then chronicles their lives and their struggles with an increasingly hostile recreational fishing community to maintain a way of life that has sustained them and their families for generations.
This book is highly recommended, not just for the insight it gives into the lives of these fishermen, but as well for the insight into the struggle of commercial fishermen in many areas to cope with an increasing view of our coastal waters as an exclusive playground for the privileged few.
1985 by Random House (New York, NY)