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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human [Hardcover]

Richard Wrangham
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 May 2009 0465013627 978-0465013623 1

Ever since Darwin and The Descent of Man, the existence of humans has been attributed to our intelligence and adaptability. But in Catching Fire, renowned primatologist Richard Wrangham presents a startling alternative: our evolutionary success is the result of cooking. In a groundbreaking theory of our origins, Wrangham shows that the shift from raw to cooked foods was the key factor in human evolution. When our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity began. Once our hominid ancestors began cooking their food, the human digestive tract shrank and the brain grew. Time once spent chewing tough raw food could be sued instead to hunt and to tend camp. Cooking became the basis for pair bonding and marriage, created the household, and even led to a sexual division of labor. Tracing the contemporary implications of our ancestors’ diets, Catching Fire sheds new light on how we came to be the social, intelligent, and sexual species we are today. A pathbreaking new theory of human evolution, Catching Fire will provoke controversy and fascinate anyone interested in our ancient origins—or in our modern eating habits.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (5 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465013623
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 893,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Something this big and original in evolutionary studies doesn't come along very often' --Bee Wilson, The Times

'A daringly unorthodox book, and one that might just transform the way we understand ourselves' --James McConnachie, Sunday Times

`Brilliantly original and illuminating' --Scotsman

'A fascinating read, to be sure, and a very accessible one' --Herald

'Catching Fire is very readable and not in the least technical. Wrangham makes a compelling case...'
--Evening Standard

`Wrangham's enjoyably expressed theory is utterly persuasive' --Independent

''Catching Fire' is that rare thing, an exhilarating science book.' --Simon Ings, Sunday Telegraph

`Lucidly written and accessible... What makes his thesis so gripping to read is that it is elegantly argued.' --Harry Eyres, Financial Times

`A fascinating read, to be sure, and a very accessible one' --The Herald

`Richard Wrangham's ingredients are freshly gathered from an impressive variety of fields' --Steve Jones, Guardian

'A hugely readable history of our culinary pedigree... an energetic and enjoyable book...'
--Sunday Business Post

`An intriguing theseis... convincing and is presented in a lively and readable manner' --Robin McKie, Observer

`Startling and persuasive' --Economist

`Delectable reading' --Independent on Sunday

`An unusual and compelling read' --Times Higher Education

`A real expert in his field' --Time Out

`A revelation' --Country Life

`Richard Wrangham presents a powerful thesis - and the more you think about it, the more it seems to be true.' --Colin Tudge, Literary Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A groundbreaking new theory of evolution --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What is the originality of the ideas in this book - to what extent has Richard Wrangham taken the theory of evolution forwards with the fundamental assertion that the use of fire and development of cooking was not simply an adjunct but was the key factor in advancing the evolution of homo erectus over apes and the beginning of humanity some 2 million years ago? Richard is immensely convincing.

As he says " Fleas do not suck blood because they happen to have a proboscis well designed for piecing mammalian skins ; they have a proboscis because they are adapted to sucking blood. Similarly humans do not eat cooked food because we have the right kind of teeth and guts; rather we have small teeth and short guts as a result of a cooked diet. " And he brings this together with Aiello and Wheeler's expensive tissue hypothesis " Big brains have evolved in some animals because they have small guts and small guts are made possible by high quality diets".

All major scientific "discoveries" are the expression of accumulated knowledge of many diligent people. Richard Wrangham fully acknowledges his inspirations. But his combination and deep understanding of a range of sciences - from nutrition, digestion, neuroscience, archealogy to all types of anthropology - provides crucial evidence to support his theory. From his own original work among apes in East Africa, he can draw on first hand evidence but it is the rich variety of interesting examples, evidence and case studies quoted together with the clarity of explanation that makes this book fascinating reading.

But the book goes beyond evolution of the biological species into social evolution with Perles's assertion that "cooking ends individual self sufficiency...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New perspectives 15 Jan 2012
The beauty of this book is that it takes a fresh look at so much that has long been observed but not brought together. Many great discoveries are made like this and it usually takes an outsider with fresh eyes to achieve it: Richard Wrangham is to be congratulated. Some of the themes may catch you off your guard: be prepared for a few surprises... Despite some accusations, it is not academic and I have enjoyed re-reading it several times.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original Theory 23 Mar 2011
An intreasting & original theroy presented in an readble & great way.
Cooked food as the engine of brain growth, simple but if true a solution to one of the great questions of Human evolution
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, readable hypothesis! 20 Aug 2013
By Bugs
Other reviewers have described the content so I will not go over the same ground. The ideas and reasoning are first class. I was astounded. It compares to "Guns, Germs and Steel" in its originality and cogently arranged arguments. This, in my opinion, makes the book an important and essential study for those who wish to learn about our beginnings as humans. It is a truly readable book, short and pacy enough to read on holidays!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I expected more and better 6 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
"Catching fire" is an interesting book. It presents some ideas that are original and thought-provoking about the phenomena that made us human. Some of them are perhaps too far-stretched and the author is too busy focusing on his main subject - processing the food - to notice the conglomerate of many other influences, not rooted in the food (pre)history. In short, the book offers interesting contents, but it is too biased.
It is also too repetitive - the same arguments appear dozens of times on its pages. There was a point when I felt almost bored and wanted to put the book aside - but then interesting things appeared, and hardly it became entertaining again, when it ended unexpectedly (I was reading it on Kindle, so that I didin't notice at the beginning that at 60% the book is finished and the rest is just endnotes - which, by the way, do not provide any particular additional entertainment or in-depth knowledge).

Overall - not a bad read, quite interesting, but definitely doesn't meet expectations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homo Erectus meets Fanny Cradock 13 April 2012
I liked this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in human evolution, food or diet, or to anyone who eats food.

Over the evolutionary series of: early Habilines (the author's term for Australopithecus Habilis and Homo Habilis), Home Erectus to Homo Sapiens, this book discusses the timing and importance of fire and cooking and that it was cooking as much as meat eating that provided the calories required to develop and support an increasingly larger brain. Cooking is evolutionarily and biologically significant, it is no just a cultural development. The author discusses the importance of cooking in diet which allows more calories to be digested from some food, for meat to be digested more efficiently and for may foods, indigestible raw, to be eaten.

Human internal plumbing matches cooked food. It is only recently in the fat developed world that the rate of change in industrially processed food has overtaken digestive evolution.

The author starts by discussing raw-foodism, which is a very good way to lose a lot of weight. He notes that raw-foodists depend on exceptionally high quality foods produced by agriculture. In the wild, foods are considerably smaller and take much longer to find than a stroll down a supermarket aisle. Raw-foodists taken away from a modern society would have a very hard time.

Habilines may have tenderised their raw meat by pounding but the author considers it was during the Habiline to Homo Erectus transition when food and fire first met to produce cooking and cooking vegetables is just as important as cooking meat.

The Epilogue discusses the
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best
Having read lots of books on food in general this one was one of my favourite. Easy to follow, analyses in depth the evolution of men and women and of human society. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lazaros Lataniotis
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely interesting take on subject - very well written
I recommend this book to anyone and everyone with the faintest interest in biology, nutrition, evolution, behavioral sciences and/or cooking
Published 14 months ago by Frederik
4.0 out of 5 stars Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
Considering the evolution of humans in the context of food and cooking is a fascinating subject. Why do we eat the foods we do, as opposed to the food chimpanzees eat? Read more
Published 18 months ago by oxfoodblog
4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing
The author makes an extremely convincing and logical argument for his theory that cooking food (as well as meat eating) helped make us who we are. Read more
Published on 28 Jan 2012 by Jodi-Hummingbird
5.0 out of 5 stars The Evolution of Us
According to the "standard model" of human evolution we reached our current "form" with the emergence of homo sapiens some 200 000 years ago. Read more
Published on 27 Dec 2011 by Mr. Michael R. Mcdowell
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but repetitive
A fascinating and thought provoking read. Richard's theory is skilfully constructed and his arguments are well supported. Read more
Published on 24 Nov 2011 by Once Upon a Cook
5.0 out of 5 stars How women got to do the housework
This is a checklist for those who think about healthy eating (there are lots of food fads around).
It gives the latest news about the evolution of our species, and last but... Read more
Published on 6 April 2011 by Jens Guld
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and clear
I won't review this at length because some of the other reviews are so detailed. I am interested in diet, evolution, and anthropology but am not a specialist. Read more
Published on 20 Mar 2011 by Helen
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