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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human [Paperback]

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

27 May 2010

In this stunningly original book, Richard Wrangham argues that it was cooking that caused the extraordinary transformation of our ancestors from apelike beings to Homo erectus. At the heart of Catching Fire lies an explosive new idea: the habit of eating cooked rather than raw food permitted the digestive tract to shrink and the human brain to grow, helped structure human society, and created the male-female division of labour. As our ancestors adapted to using fire, humans emerged as "the cooking apes".

Covering everything from food-labelling and overweight pets to raw-food faddists, Catching Fire offers a startlingly original argument about how we came to be the social, intelligent, and sexual species we are today.

"This notion is surprising, fresh and, in the hands of Richard Wrangham, utterly persuasive ... Big, new ideas do not come along often in evolution these days, but this is one." -Matt Ridley, author of Genome

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (27 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184668286X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846682865
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 36,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Offers a startlingly original argument about how we came to be the social and intelligent species we are today.' --The Judges of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize 2010

`A breakthrough in evolutionary biology' --Daily Telegraph

`Wrangham is doing no small thing here; he's putting forward - in the most accessible way - his big new theory... Fascinating stuff, convincingly argued' --Sunday Telegraph

`Intriguing... You need never feel guilty about opting for pie over salad again' --Metro

`My father, whom I took with me [to a vegan raw food restaurant], was citing biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham's book Catching Fire before we had even scanned the menu' --Evening Standard

`Daringly unorthodox' --Sunday Times

`Catching Fire, with its treasure trove of great stories, makes for pleasurable consumption' --Times Literary Supplement

`His lucid theory is most persuasive' Independent --Independent

`Immensely enjoyable' -- Guardian

`This is one of the best popular science books I've ever read' -- William Leith, Evening Standard

`Fascinating and persuasive' -- House and Garden

'This is as unputdownable as a thriller!' --Nigella Lawson

`Fascinating ... If Wrangham's thesis is right, we really are what we eat' --Heston Blumenthal

Book Description

'Absolutely fascinating' Nigella Lawson

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homo Erectus meets Fanny Cradock 13 April 2012
By Mac McAleer TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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23 of 25 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
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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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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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 9 months ago by Lazaros Lataniotis
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, readable hypothesis!
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. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Bugs
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 21 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 on 8 Oct 2012 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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