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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human Paperback – 27 May 2010

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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: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 120,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Toothsome, skillfully prepared brain food. (Dwight Garner New York Times)

How exciting to see a distinguished scholar proving unequivocally that cookery is at the centre of our humanity (Sam Clark, Moro)

As easily digested as the cooked food it champions ... This book packs the punch of a Tournedo Rossini with the lightness of a foam infusion (Allegra McEvedy, Guardian chef-in-residence)

Enthralling (Bookseller 2010-01-08)

Catching Fire offers a startlingly original argument about how we came to be the social, intelligent, and sexual species we are today. 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 the groundbreaking new theory that the habit of eating cooked rather than raw food made us human. More than language, emotional intelligence, or the opposable thumb, the mastery of fire created us. Once our ancestors began cooking their food, the human digestive tract began to shrink and the brain to grow. Time once spent chewing tough raw food could be used 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 labour. (The Judges of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize 2010 2010-05-26)

Good public anthropology. With its balance of storytelling and coherently explained data, the book will enjoy a deservedly wide readership... Catching Fire, with its treasure trove of great stories, makes for pleasurable consumption (Barbara J King Times Literary Supplement 2010-06-04)

Wrangham is doing no small thing here; he's putting forward - in the most accessible way - his big new theory... Fascinating stuff, convincingly argued (Holly Kyte Sunday Telegraph 2010-06-13)

A breakthrough in evolutionary biology (Daily Telegraph 2010-06-12)

Intriguing... You need never feel guilty about opting for pie over salad again (Metro 2010-06-09)

Daringly unorthodox (Sunday Times 2010-06-13)

His lucid theory is most persuasive (Independent 2010-06-25)

Immensely enjoyable (Guardian 2010-06-19)

This is one of the best popular science books I've ever read (William Leith Evening Standard 2010-06-17)

A completely new theory about how we got where we are. Vindicates cuisine as never before - and will put you off raw food diets forever (Evening Standard Summer Reading 2010-07-02)

A compelling and intriguing argument. Brain food at its best (Antonia Senior The Times Summer Reading 2010-07-03)

His lucid theory is most persuasive (Christopher Hirst Independent 2010-06-25)

Ingenious (Daily Express 2010-06-25)

I have always believed that cooking is what makes us civilised, but until reading this I hadn't realised this was true at some deeper, actually anthropological level. Wrangham's argument, delivered with a lucidity that is a rare pleasure in an academic, is that it wasn't until our early ancestors stopped subsisting on raw food and began to cook it, thus providing more concentrated fuel, that our brains grew, becoming more sophisticated, and society developed. Wrangham makes his case with brio; this is as unputdownable as a thriller! (Nigella Lawson Waterstone's Books Quarterly)

Wrangham's argument is rigorous and compelling. You would have to be an A-grade, gold medal-winning, premier league arse of mammoth proportions to dismiss it as bunk. (Jay Rayner Observer)

[A] fascinating study... Wrangham's lucid, accessible treatise ranges across nutritional science, paleontology and studies of ape behavior and hunter-gatherer societies; the result is a tour de force of natural history and a profound analysis of cooking's role in daily life. (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

An innovative argument that cooked food led to the rise of modern Homo sapiens.... Experts will debate Wrangham's thesis, but most readers will be convinced by this lucid, simulating foray into popular anthropology. (Kirkus Reviews)

Catching Fire' is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that presents nothing less than a new theory of human that Darwin (among others) simply missed. (The New York Times)

Wrangham draws together previous studies and theories from disciplines as diverse as anthropology, biology, chemistry, sociology and literature into a cogent and compelling argument. (The Washington Post)

A new theory of human evolution - 'the cooking hypothesis' - is related in plain-spoken, gripping language. (The New York Times Book Review)

Fascinating ... If Wrangham's thesis is right, we really are what we eat (Heston Blumenthal Independent)

Book Description

'Absolutely fascinating' Nigella Lawson

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By M. Hillmann on 18 Nov. 2009
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mac McAleer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 April 2012
Format: Paperback
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Michael R. Mcdowell on 27 Dec. 2011
Format: Hardcover
According to the "standard model" of human evolution we reached our current "form" with the emergence of homo sapiens some 200 000 years ago. Accordingly very few evolutionary developments have occurred in our species since this time. Although there have been some well documented adaptations at the genetic level since then, lactose tolerance in northern Europeans, springs to mind as a case in point. This is not withstanding the advances being made in the field of Epigenetics either.

What Richard Wrangham suggests in his book "Catch a Fire: how cooking made us human" is that the discovery and mastery of fire and cooking drove our evolution. Specifically it accounts for the biological facts of our evolution (since the Australopithecine Epoc over 2 million years ago), including our increasing brain size, and a concomitant shrinking of our digestive tract, and the transition for an ape like jaw to our human jaw which is both smaller and weaker, with smaller teeth. Unfortunately his argument is only partially supported by the archaeological record, however he contends that this is due to the sparseness of the records and not support for a counter argument.

From here the author goes on to elaborate how cooking might have formed the basis for many human characteristics. Such as our social arrangements, including our pair bonding behaviour, intelligence and biology.

A fascinating and truly engaging book.

Michael McDowell
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Copley Hill on 15 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
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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