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Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation Hardcover – 23 Apr 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (23 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846147506
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846147500
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.1 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 211,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For the past twenty years, Michael Pollan has been writing about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture. His book The Omnivore's Dilemma, about the ethics and ecology of eating, was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. He is also the author of In Defence of Food, The Botany of Desire, A Place of My Own and Second Nature, and the upcoming Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

Product Description


It's not often that a life-changing book falls into one's lap ... Yet Michael Pollan's Cooked is one of them. One it's impossible to read and not act on ... Embrace bacteria, cook thoughtfully and slow, and taste some of the most luscious food you've ever eaten, this powerful book says. And do it for the people you love as well as the invisible soldiers inside you who are fighting to keep you strong. Cooked is a book of revelations for today's hungry human animal. Be changed by it (Sunday Telegraph)

In Cooked, Pollan continues his campaign to get us to eat properly and pleasurably by making meals from scratch ... a warm, thoughtful narrative in which Pollan encounters everything from a surfing baker who makes the perfect sourdough to a cheese-making nun. This is a love song to old, slow kitchen skills at their delicious best (Kathryn Hughes Guardian BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

[A] rare, ranging breed of narrative that manages to do all ... In Pollan's dexterous hands, we get the science, the history, the inspiration, ultimately the recipe. What feels like all of it. It doesn't hurt that he also happens to be very funny (Boston Globe)

Pollan's book is many things, among them a memoir of learning to master the absolute basics of culinary creation: fire, water, air and earth. As Pollan chats with cheesemaking nuns and discovers Walt Whitman's views on composting, he reminds us that cooking used to be all about connection - with the world around us, with other times and cultures, and with those we cook for ... this book [is] both approachable and rewarding (Hephzibah Anderson Prospect)

As in The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan is never less than delightful, full of curiosity, insight, and good humor. This is a book to be read, savoured, and smudged with spatterings of olive oil, wine, butter, and the sulfuric streaks of chopped onion (Outside)

Pollan eloquently explains how grilling with fire, braising (water), baking bread (air), and fermented foods (earth) have impacted our health and culture ... Engaging and enlightening (Publishers Weekly)

A thoughtful meditation on cooking that is both difficult to categorize and uniquely, inimitably his ... Intensely focused yet wide ranging, beautifully written, thought provoking, and, yes, fun, Pollan's latest is not to be missed by those interested in how, why, or what we cook and eat (Library Journal)

Having described what's wrong with American food in his best-selling The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), New York Times contributor Pollan delivers a more optimistic but equally fascinating account of how to do it right ... A delightful chronicle of the education of a cook who steps back frequently to extol the scientific and philosophical basis of this deeply satisfying human activity (Booklist)

[Pollan] explores the same way a naturalist might, by studing the animals, plants and microbes involved in cooking, and delving into history, culture and chemistry ... he describes the remarkable transformations that take place in the humble saucepan ... Side by side with Mr Pollan the naturalist is the author as activist ... his book is a hymn to why people should be enticed back into the kitchen (Economist)

About the Author

Michael Pollan is the author of Second Nature, A Place of My Own, The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defence of Food and Food Rules. He lives in California.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jay Gilbertson on 6 Mar. 2014
Format: Hardcover
A Natural History of Transformation

By Michael Pollan

Long. That’s what nearly all the reviews on Amazon have to say about author Michael Pollan’s latest tome. Well, yes it is crazy-long, but he has a gift for fascinating writing that, in turn, makes for awesome reading and since it’s been mostly below zero degrees in Wisconsin, why not give it a go?

Divided into four very basic concepts of food preparation—fire, water, air & earth—Pollan sets out to make one big huge statement that most all of you already know. We have stopped cooking. Because he has so many relevant points, I’ll be quoting him like crazy. This one sets the stage:

“I began trying to unpack a curious paradox I had noticed while watching television, which was simply this: How is it that at the precise historical moment when Americans were abandoning the kitchen, handing over the preparation of most of our meals to the food industry, we began spending so much of our time thinking about food and watching other people cook it on television? The less cooking we were doing in our own lives, it seemed, the more that food and its various preparation transfixed us.”

Bam! There it is, the theme of his enormous effort, ‘Cooked’, and it unfolds elegantly with history and facts and figures that will hold you spellbound. Pollan not only has a way of researching a subject to the extreme, he also is a totally ‘hands on’ author. He grilled and braised, kneaded and fermented his way through the gamut of culinary offerings that our culture not too long ago, held in such high esteem. It’s time to haul out the Dutch oven and dust off grandma’s cook book. Like so many of his references, this one in particular struck a chord.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Purpleheart TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 26 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
'At a certain point in the late middle of my life I made the unexpected but happy discovery that the answer to several of the questions that most occupied me was in fact one and the same. Cook.'

Pollan points out that cooking is a defining human activity, citing amongst others, an anthropologist called Richard Wrangham, who argued that 'by providing our forebears with a more energy dense and easy to digest diet, it allowed our brains to grow bigger (brains being notorious energy guzzlers) and our guts to shrink.' He points out that people in the US now spend only about 30 minutes a day preparing food and generally spend more time watching other people prepare it on TV. People have turned into grazers eating most of their food whilst doing other things and not at meal times. Pollan decides that 'the best way to recover the reality of food - to return it to its proper place in our lives - is to master the physical processes by which it has traditionally been made.'

He uses the four Elements to explore different ways of cooking, to philosophise, explore the science and culture, and, for each element he apprentices himself to some masters in the field:

In Fire he goes back to the basics of cooking pigs over an open fire - because man first cooked with open flame. The great pit masters insist on wood rather than charcoal and Pollan's descriptions of learning to cook their way and to cut up the meat is completely enthralling. He clearly had a sensory and emotional response to cooking meat over flame.

In Water he explores pot cooking; boiling and braising. He apprentices himself to a chef and starts to enjoy spending his Sundays doing batch cooking for the week ahead and finding that it helps his family relationships.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Charles Lowe on 4 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book about much more than cooking that is so gripping that it's hard to put down: hard to believe, but true. Michael Pollan has a great writing style that moves between the particular of the process he is discussing and the general of how this fits into the world as we know it...and explains how we are as we are. In between he tells great stories with lovely anecdotes that make every page memorable. The concept of 'hand taste', as described by his Korean kimchi-making teacher, which ends the book was the most moving story of all, and really helped me understand why cooking is so important to me.

If like me you enjoy cooking and want to understand a bit more about why you like it, this is the book for you. If you like reading about cooking processes without forever having to skip recipes that disrupt the flow then this is for you too (there are four recipes at the end for those who cannot live without some in a book ostensibly on cooking). Finally, this book is most definitely for you if you want to understand how the basic processes that Michael Pollan describes have very much shaped the way our bodies work, and indeed our whole civilisation - it is that far-reaching.

When I look back in ten years time I suspect this will remain one of the books that have most influenced my understanding of what it is to be human.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Pardo VINE VOICE on 21 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I think I've heard the author on the radio once and was aware of his "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." maxim but I've not read any of his earlier work - having read Cooked, I will be looking out for them. This book is brilliant - filled with fascinating detail on the chemical and biological transformation of raw ingredients into wholesome, digestible, flavourful food, it spans the whole history of humanity to tell how we have evolved in response to the way we prepare food, and how many micro-organisms that aid that process have co-evolved with us.

The book's central conceit is to examine the transformation of food by the four elements of the ancient world - fire, water, air, earth - with fire being the traditional southern US style of slow barbecuing a whole pig over the embers of a wood fire, water being what the Americans call braising and I'd call stewing, air being bread making and earth (using bacterial and fungal agents of decay) being a combination of pickling, cheesemaking and brewing - the last of which neatly combines all four elements. It's a clever conceit and works well. In each case the author seeks out experts in the field to learn the techniques and tells us what he finds out along the way.

In addition it is filled with fascinating little tit-bits like the fact that, when presented with an "open bar", chimps will maintain a steady state of permanent inebriation, whereas rats won't generally drink to excess but will have a "cocktail" before eating, a "nightcap" before going to sleep, but then every three to four days have a communal drinking session where they all get totally - well - ratted. That story alone was worth reading the whole book for. Brilliant.
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