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Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation [Paperback]

Michael Pollan
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 April 2014

Extraordinary stories of transformation in a quest to uncover the fundamentals of cooking - from writer and cooking star Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan's Cooked takes us back to basics and first principles: cooking with fire, with water, with air and with earth.

Meeting cooks from all over the world, who share their wisdom and stories, Pollan shows how cooking is at the heart of our culture and that when it gets down to it, it also fundamentally shapes our lives.

Filled with fascinating facts and curious, mouthwatering tales from cast of eccentrics, Cooked explores the deepest mysteries of how and why we cook.

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Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation + Food Rules: An Eater's Manual + In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating: An Eater's Manifesto
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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 April 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141975628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141975627
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,846 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
...he will in no way have increased his knowledge". Pollan thus quotes philosopher Gaston Bachelard in a footnote at one point in the book and I was at that point, about a third of the way through this, feeling the very same way about this book itself. Much of it, especially up to then, seems like a creative writing exercise devoid of genuine content, and I was on the verge of giving up entirely. It does however pick up thereafter, but it's a shame that the first section, "Fire", discussing hog roast is so dull. The subsequent parts, "Water" (on braising and in particular sugo), "Air" (bread) and "Earth" (fermentation - sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese & alcohol) do discuss the chemistry of cooking more deeply.

Pollan is known for his pithy remark simplifying modern anxiety about food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." The message of "Cooked" could probably be summed up similarly laconically: "Eat food. Home made. By you."
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cooking philosophy at its best 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Long---But Well Worth The Read! So Important. 6 Mar 2014
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughful, fascinating and disquieting 14 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In an age when we are buying more cookery books than ever, are obsessed by the styling of our kitchens and are spending an inordinate time watching cookery programmes on the television, it is ironic that we are spending hardly any time actually cooking. Instead we rely on processed, or as Pollen calls it 'industrial cooking', as it removes the hard work (reducing cooking to mere heating up) and even allows us to taste many different cuisines and have a huge variety in what we eat. However, the downside to this is that industrial cooking is becoming increasingly linked with the explosion of obesity in the western world.

In the introduction Pollen quotes Boswell calling homo sapiens the cooking animal as that is what differentiates man from beast, although he notes that animals also enjoy cooked meat, scavenging through the remains of forest fires. Is this how man first discovered that cooked meat was easier to digest than raw?

This book explores cooking down to its most basic elements. It is, the author says, a how-to book, teaching us to attempt to master the four physical processes which are fundamental to cooking - fire, water air and earth - the four basic recipes - grilling, stewing, baking and brewing/fermentation. In each section he looks both at ancient and modern practice, for example the traditional hog roasts of North Carolina, and the precision fire grilling of the Basque cook, Bittor Arguinzoniz, who matches not just the heat of the embers but the burning fuel itself to the food he is cooking. He notes common features that can be found world-wide, for example the mirepoix, sofrito and tarka mixtures of chopped vegetables that form the base of food cooked in liquid.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
Entertaining and really informative book. This is both a set of stories and explanation of much of the magic of cooking that I hadn't really understood. Read more
Published 1 month ago by George Mum
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Interesting read.
Published 2 months ago by benjamin
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiration!
Michael Pollan is an inspiration! I have read all of his books so was very excited when I saw this one had been published. It certainly lived up to expectation. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Manda K. Stone
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning guide to how we feed ourselves in the West
The first book by Michael Pollan that I read was called the Food Rules and could be summarised in seven words: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Nick Shanagher
5.0 out of 5 stars Cookede
Brilliant book, well researched and written. A bit dense in places but well worth the effort as there is loads of information
Published 9 months ago by Mr Philip Martino
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and philosophical
I have been wanting to read Pollan's latest book for some time. "Cooked" reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list and has been creating quite a buzz. Read more
Published 9 months ago by San Diego surfer
4.0 out of 5 stars Intersting
This is a very interesting insight into how our tastes and cooking habits habits have changed over the years. Read more
Published 10 months ago by S
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
Another one of those books which fulfills a need in me for cookbooks that read like novels. Just a joy to read, makes your mouth water in parts, and is fascinating too. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Nicolette Laurence
5.0 out of 5 stars A cullinery Gone with the Wind
This massive tome from award winning writer Pollan delves into how we accepting the food on our plate rarely look at it in philosophical/geographical/historical/cultural ways. Read more
Published 10 months ago by David Spanswick
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, yet complex
Michael Pollen explores the wonder of food through his own adventures into cooking.

This is a really interesting book and it covers a lot of ground and subjects but... Read more
Published 10 months ago by R. A. Mansfield
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