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Cyprinus to You, Too

The fishy cousin to the gnu and the aardvark

Illinois Times

July 21, 1978

I will save future biographers the trouble and here point out that my published work includes two pieces about the common carp but not one paean to the Chicago Cubs. As to why, I leave that to the biographers to explain.


My natural history of the carp can be read here.


The funny thing about the carp is, everybody thinks he’s funny. The carp is one of those animals—the gnu and the aardvark share his unhappy company—that humans find impossible to take seriously.


I have often written on the subject of the carp. It is a preoccupation my friends are too polite to criticize and too puzzled to explain. I myself haven't the faintest idea where I acquired my admiration for our much-abused scaly cousin. I flatter myself to think it the result of my sympathy for the underdog—or underfish, as the case may be. It may be simply that I enjoy a good joke as much as the next person; there are few things in life (pratfalls and the Beaux Arts Ball are two) as funny as the carp.


After a piece of mine called "Biography of the carp" appeared last summer. a friend of my father who is a devoted bass fisherman—the friend, that is—passed word down through the elder branch that. if I wanted to learn something about a real fish, he would be happy to take me bass  fishing on Lake Springfield. Though generous, it was an offer l had to refuse. For one thing, l distrust bass chauvinists. For another, most bass fisherman I know seem to drive Oldsmobiles—I don't know why. For a third, bass have a very suburban aesthetic sense and can be induced to bite at any bauble you drag across its path provided it’s gaudy enough; l once got one to strike at a red plastic earring to which I’d attached a treble hook. Finally, it takes too much money to catch bass. My proletarian instincts rebel at the spectacle of bass hunters taking the field in $5,000 bass boats equipped with electronic fish finders, upholstered swivel chairs, foot-controlled electric bow motors, and the like. It seems so unsporting.


Sensible fish that he is, the carp will nibble only at something that bears a passable resemblance to food. It requires no fancy boats for his capture; while catching a bass is a triumph of technology, catching a carp is one of native cunning. He is catholic in his tastes and democratic  in his choice of environments. It isn’t necessary to spend a hundred and fifty bucks on a fish finder to find a carp. Any puddle a foot deep and a yard wide likely harbors a carp or two; they are as common as relatives at a will reading. Instead of elaborate rods and reels, the typical carper needs nothing more expensive than a three-dollar rod and a Zebco reel of the kind you can buy in drugstores.


Ultimately the gap between the carp and the bass is a cultural one. A lot of Americans find there is something vaguely Third-Worldish about the carp. Its skin is yellow or brown or black, it is thought to be dirty and lazy. Its high birth rate poses unsettling ecological threats to more established species. The bass, on the other hand, is a rich man's fish, the trout of the Midwest. The bass is caught mainly for fun, by people who can afford it; the carp is often caught for food, by people who can’t.


Carp in its unadorned form is a delicacy common in working class bars and cafes but is almost unknown in higher class joints. lt is an acquired taste. The standard recipe in these parts is to put a carp and an old boot in a kettle of water, boil together for twenty-four hours, throw away the carp and eat the boot. Calvin Trillin, who writes "U.S. Journal" for ‘The New Yorker, recently observed: "There is some controversy about what the best part of the carp is, and there are, of course, a good many people who believe that there isn’t any best part of a carp." This is a bias not shared by the Europeans, who raise carp as a food crop.


As for Asians, they find the carp a delight for the eye as well as the belly and fill their garden ponds with them. So respected an animal is the carp in Japan. in fact, that the Japanese—I will resist the temptation to insert the word "even" here—named one of their  professional baseball teams after him: the Osaka Carps. ●




John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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