Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

by Richard Wrangham

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The groundbreaking theory of how fire and food drove the evolution of modern humans
Ever since Darwin and The Descent of Man, the evolution and world-wide dispersal of humans has been attributed to our intelligence and adaptability. But in Catching Fire, renowned primatologist Richard Wrangham presents a startling alternative: our evolutionary success is the result of cooking. In a groundbreaking theory of our origins, Wrangham shows that the shift from raw to cooked foods was the key factor in human evolution. Once our hominid ancestors began cooking their food, the human digestive tract shrank and the brain grew. Time once spent chewing tough raw food could be sued 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 labor. In short, once our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity began. Tracing the contemporary implications of our ancestors' diets, Catching Fire sheds new light on how we came to be the social, intelligent, and sexual species we are today. A pathbreaking new theory of human evolution, Catching Fire will provoke controversy and fascinate anyone interested in our ancient origins-or in our modern eating habits.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786744787
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 05/26/2009
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 563,308
File size: 279 KB
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and Curator of Primate Behavioral Biology at the Peabody Museum. He is the co-author of Demonic Malesand co-editor of Chimpanzee Cultures. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Cooking Hypothesis 1

1 Quest for Raw-Foodists 15

2 The Cook's Body 37

3 The Energy Theory of Cooking 55

4 When Cooking Began 83

5 Brain Foods 105

6 How Cooking Frees Men 129

7 The Married Cook 147

8 The Cook's Journey 179

Epilogue: The Well-Informed Cook 195

Acknowledgments 209

Notes 213

Bibliography 257

Index 289

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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
SSGSX More than 1 year ago
A pretty interesting read. I would not recommend this book if you are not interested in human evolution. But if you are, I think you will find this as a good interesting read. After you think about the basic ideas behind his theory it makes a lot of sense, especially when comparing our species to other mammalian species. Also, he does site a lot of examples with native tribes around the world, especially Aborigines and the Bush people. But all in all, a very good book!
agukal3 More than 1 year ago
The question is old: Where do we come from? Contemporary evolutionists point out that we, as with all other organisms, are the result of eons of genetic mutations caused by environmental pressures. However, Richard Wrangham draws an eye-opening conclusion in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human; the invention of fire and hence cooking has shaped our intrinsic evolution from both biological and sociological standpoints, ultimately changing our own evolution as a species. Wrangham arrives at this powerful conclusion by drawing from various contemporary and archeological sources as well as evidence from gastronomical and chemical processes. Catching Fire sheds new light on how we came to be the social, intelligent, and sexual species we are today and provokes controversy by examining a different angle of human evolution. Wrangham first unravels the question of why humans are the only species to purposefully cook their food. Conventional wisdom has assumed that since humans are animals and animals eat raw food, ergo humans can eat and survive on raw food. However, since our gastronomical tract has evolved, we cannot efficiently process uncooked food. Wrangham draws an interesting conclusion that this was crucial for humans from an evolutionary standpoint. By unlocking caloric food potential through cooking by denaturing macromolecules, humans were able to expend less energy processing food and evolved a much smaller gut and the ability to travel long distances. In turn, this soon shaped our sociological viewpoints forming the rudiments of male-female interaction. That is, women becoming locked into cooking since raising infants and cooking are mainly stationary tasks. In essence, the author provides that human evolutionary success depends merely on inventiveness. Taken to extremes, our species seems to be free to create our own ecology, shaping the path of our evolution. The book gains its main strengths from anecdotes and relevant scientific studies pertaining to the chapter of choice. The informal writing style draws the reader in and assumes the appearance of enjoyable, novelistic writing rather than a hard, fact-driven scientific book. Scientific anecdotes merely enforce the logical thinking of the author as he divulges in various thought-provoking ideas. Wrangham weaves these together so elegantly that Catching Fire convinces and impresses the reader in argument and its explanatory power. However, the weakness in this book is mainly the repetitiveness. The author unfortunately states his main conclusions in the introduction and refers back to them again and again. His masterful work shows how cooking was and continues to be an essential part of humanity. Overall, Catching Fire was both an important and a highly enjoyable read.
Conor More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting and thought provoking theory on the leap from apes to mankind. The more you read and start to put the pieces together in your mind, the more sense the theory makes. Very well laid out and argued. It gets a little philosophical at times and assumes a few crucial events in history, but Wrangham's guess is as good as anyone's. Overall, though, this book is well researched and quite fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting. I disagree that one should not read this if not interested in evolution. I find it applicable to freshmen in college seeking general education credit. Content is applicable to general views on nutrition (humans as omnivores) and the social ramifications of food preparation techniques. The explanation of the evolution of society and sexually dimorphic roles is revealing. Blah blah blah. In other words, this is a darn good book.
melsking More than 1 year ago
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham provides an interesting and in-depth look at how the progression from raw to cooked food that has helped humanity evolve from an ape-like creature to today's Homo sapiens actually took place quite earlier than most scientists had realized. Wrangham seeks to show that the cooking of food began with the early human ancestor named the habilines instead of a much later descendent. To set up his theories, Wrangham begins by proving that cooked food is inherently more energy-beneficial than raw food and that humans had control over fire, a necessity for cooking, by the time the habilines evolved. Once these two principles are established, Wrangham moves into his real thesis - how the cooking of food could jump-start evolution. Wrangham focuses greatly on human biology and sociology throughout the remainder of the book. He extrapolates from the few skeletal remains of the ancient habilines and their descendents, the Homo erectus and Homo hederbergeisis, and the condition of modern-day Homo sapiens that the digestive system, teeth, jaws and lips of humans are considerably shorter and smaller than other mammals our size, and that our intelligence is also greater. He attempts to show that the condensed energy value of cooked food is responsible for such physical differences. He also hypothesizes such social conventions as marriage and the sharing of food between people also began with the cooking of food, and that the sexual division of labor, with women as the main cooks and men as hunters, also is a direct result of cooking. Catching Fire is a well-written, very organized and very well evidenced theory as to how humans evolved. Wrangham provides numerous examples to prove each of his points in a clear and concise manner that all readers can understand and crosses over several branches of science, including human biology, chemistry and archaeology in order to prove his theory. The only true shortcoming of the book lays in the last few pages when Wrangham seeks to tie in his results to a modern-day application. The lack of evidence and the abrupt switch in topic from theory to application in this final point are incongruous with the rest of the book and does not fit into the book as a whole.
lawyermom More than 1 year ago
The basic premise of this book is clearly stated i.e. cooked food is easier to digest, produces more energy and thus supports a larger brain. However, once the author starts quoting authorities, confusion begins. Even though all of the above benefits of cooking are supposedly indisputable, he adds a lot of evidence about the benefits of other diets. Admittedly he picks some weird proponents- including people who bring their ouwn food (raw) to restaurants (one charming gentleman apparently dined on raw bone marrow) but he then proceeds to list some studies of the benefits of raw diets, including increased energy, healthier digeestive systems and, supposedly, a greater sense of well-being. He clearly disdains raw diets but in the early chapters, I had difficulty trying to understand why. Cooked food may have allowed an advantage in our early evolution but he really doesn't make a good case as to why a raw diet, outside of being difficult to maintain, is still to be avoided. The statistics he cites, do not appear to support the argument.
dele2451 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wrangham's amazing book offers strong scientific evidence that cooking is not merely a chore or activity human beings engage in regularly, but rather the singular most important element in both our evolution as a species and as a modern society. Using a wealth of scientific evidence taken from disciplines ranging from anthropology to zoology, the author systematically and thoroughly overturns many longstanding beliefs about human/primate behavior revolving primarily around sexual attraction. Turns out mating often takes a back seat to meals when it comes to survival and humans might still be living in tree limbs if it hadn't been for the capture of fire which led to the process we now call cooking. I whoteheartedly agree with Nigella's comment on the back cover "Absolutely fascinating." A definite recommend!
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catching fire is a gem with many interesting ideas about the influence of cooked food on human behavior. Its main flaw is that the author's plausible hypothesis that eating nutritious cooked food was the main trigger to human development (big brains, small guts) currently lacks any evidence to support it. A great theory in search of confirmation. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to find remains of fireplaces and cooked food of homo habilis two million years ago.The book is filled with interesting observations about food, especially cooked food, and human behavior. Man the cooking ape is a great concept. Food, and especially man's hunger for cooked food, joins sex as one of evolution's driving forces. Highly recommended (hopefully, his hypothesis can soon be falsified or confirmed.).
byroade on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Probably one of my top books ever for clear, cogent writing on a fascinating topic: human evolution. It's brief and easy to read and I'd recommend it to anyone who I think would sit still for it.
Janientrelac on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting, well written with lots of evidence. Men get married to have a woman cooking the evening meal, women get married to have peace while cooking, cooking is one of the factors creating sex roles, combines well with E. W. Barber's book about woman's role in textiles.
Lelue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us HumanOverall rating: Just unique perspective of our evolution told in this one.This is odd review for smoothies reviews, because this time it is on a none fiction book written by Richard Wrangham. it¿s called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. I didn¿t want to read it. I just had to in order to pass a English course.The book is a collection of scientific essays. It¿s about how cooking began ( or thoughts of how it began) There¿s multiple theories. Also there¿s the theory presented of how cooked food made us evolve, changing our evolution to what we are today.The book uses a lot of facts. It¿s not just some yahoo saying it¿s thing way just because he said so. He put the years into the research that went onto the book, and I can appreciate that. Also if you¿re a science geek like me, you might like some parts of it. There really is a lot of information here. It¿s not as difficult to read as you would think.Yet on the other hand what kills this book there is a lot of repetition. He¿ll spend three pages explaining something in one essay, and then four pages saying the same thing in the next essay. Having to annotate the whole book I just sometime felt like I should smash my head into rock wall because I¿m tired of reading same thing over and over again. The book is meant to be skimmed for knowledge, not as novel. (Like I was force to do)So overall the book is alright. I have a slight interest in anthology. But my interest in food is lacking. (I look at eating as something that just get me through the day more than anything else.) So the two together are kind of weird to me, but I like the work that was put behind it.2 smoothies out of four
DavidGoldsteen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wrangham's premise is fascinating: he believes that cooking food is not merely a side-effect of human evolution, but a necessary condition for it -- only when our ancestors learned to cook, were they able to process enough calories to support our energy-hungry brains. Further, he says, the domestication of fire allowed early pre-humans to safely descend from the trees, and encouraged social behavior.Wrangham's writing is highly accessible, and he uses evidence from a wide range of fields to support his thesis: nutrition, anthropology, archeology, etc. He doesn't over-labor his ideas, either -- it takes only around 200 pages from the first page to the endnotes.
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