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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 21st century breakthrough in Evolutionary Theory?
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...
Published on 18 Nov 2009 by M. Hillmann

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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. I found his writing style repetitive and slightly irritating - too much "egging the pudding" - which somewhat weakens the impact of his proposition. Never-the-less, I'd recommend it and suggest that he gets/uses a good editor for the next edition.
Published on 24 Nov 2011 by Once Upon a Cook


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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 21st century breakthrough in Evolutionary Theory?, 18 Nov 2009
By 
M. Hillmann "miles" (leicester, england) - See all my reviews
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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... without a social network defining, supporting and enforcing social norms cooking would end in chaos" He ascribes human pair bonding, the division of labour between men and women and the development of sophisticated social organisation to the use of fire and the development of cooking. And he does not shrink from voicing his opinions "cooking created and perpetuated a novel system of male cultural superiority. It is not a pretty picture."

Even the epilogue with its critique of current methods of measurement of cooked food and the effects of modern day diet and cooked food on health maintains the stimulating read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homo Erectus meets Fanny Cradock, 13 April 2012
By 
Mac McAleer (London UK) - See all my reviews
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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 Atwater convention, the method used to get approximate calorific values for food, familiar on food labels, and its inadequacies. Humans expend calories just to digest food and the amount expended varies between people. The calories available from food depend on whether it is cooked or raw, its physical state such as how finely ground it is, and the combination of foods it is eaten with.

CREDENTIALS: The author is a Harvard professor of anthropology and a director of a chimpanzee project.

THE BOOK has 211 pages spread over an Introduction, 8 chapters and an Epilogue plus Notes, Bibliography and Index. It is printed with a wide margin and a medium sized fount leading to 28 lines per page. There are no illustrations or maps. This is a serious book written accessibly for the mass market. This is reflected in the extensive Notes (43 pages) and a Bibliography (31 pages) which references more scientific journals than books.

THE CHAPTERS:
Introduction: The Cooking Hypothesis
1. Quest for Raw-Foodists 2. The Cook's Body 3. The Energy Theory of Cooking 4. When Cooking Began 5. Brain Foods 6. How Cooking Frees Men 7. The Married Cook 8. The Cook's Journey
Epilogue: The Well-Informed Cook

LINKS
McGee, Harold McGee on Food and Cooking
Cradock, Fanny The Homo Erectus Cookbook (just kidding)
Pollan, Michael In Defence of Food
Atwater, Wilbur Methods and Results of Investigations on the Chemistry and Economy of Food
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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
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This review is from: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Kindle Edition)
"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
By 
Kevin Bulmer (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars The Evolution of Us, 27 Dec 2011
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.

Enjoy,
Michael McDowell
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but repetitive, 24 Nov 2011
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A fascinating and thought provoking read. Richard's theory is skilfully constructed and his arguments are well supported. I found his writing style repetitive and slightly irritating - too much "egging the pudding" - which somewhat weakens the impact of his proposition. Never-the-less, I'd recommend it and suggest that he gets/uses a good editor for the next edition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How women got to do the housework, 6 April 2011
By 
Jens Guld (Denmark) - See all my reviews
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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 not least it gives the first rational explanation I have seen about why women are doing more than their share of the work and getting paid less.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and clear, 20 Mar 2011
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This review is from: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Kindle Edition)
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. I found this very thought provoking and well worth reading.
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