True, I could have paid more attention to the title, or read the reviews carefully, but I thought this book was going to explain how cooking "grew up" over the ages. What it accounts...over and over and over again is the anthropology not so much of cooking in itself, but how cooking exists in primitive cultures. Interesting in one sense, but not at all what I was expecting. This book had promise it just couldn't deliver.
A must read for those interested in human evolution. Writing is a bit dry and repetative, but the punch line is intriguing.
Jumps on his bed while licking the bottom of one foot. He persists in this life affirming act despite interference from the head nurse.
Imagine a dry but appealing apple whose second half is spoiled. Dr. Wrangham once again ruins his work with terrible anti-male bias that no doubt sets well with the p.c. harpies at Harvard, where he is employed, but has been a thorn in this reader's side ever since buying his earlier book "Demonic Males." This text has eight chapters. The first five are well worth the listen as Wrangham is obviously quite intelligent, well read, well traveled and experienced. His credentials as a primatologist are outstanding. One sees him every once in a while on television, standing in a jungle, chewing on gorilla fodder, spitting it out and saying how bad it tastes. His idea that cooked food shortened the human gut, reduced human teeth, and enlarged the human brain, and therefore explains periods of major changes in human evolution, is an excellent insight. He writes in a terse manner, economical of words. His logic is generally well reasoned--although not always. If one reads carefully there are genuine non-sequiturs involving obtuse examples that have only vague connections to a subject under discussion, as well as post-hoc errors of logic which really don't prove anything. Dr. Wrangham also relies too much on examples to prove his points, ignoring others that don't. An argument based only on selected examples is faulty. By the second half of his book Wrangham moves much into speculation: "it might have been that" and "maybe" and "perhaps," etc. The second half is also repetitive; Wrangham made his points well in the first half of his book and should have quit there. Finally, the doc couldn't resist inserting two chapters full of misandrism, and by so doing throws his scientific objectivity out the window. Beginning in chapters six and seven ("How Cooking Frees Men" and "The Married Cook") the doc gets up to his old tricks of man-bashing. He should see another type of doctor, who would help him probe hidden childhood memories.
Fantasy and Romance Author
The author has some very interesting observations about the nutritional differences between raw food and cooked food, the adaption of the human mouth and digestive system to cooked food, and some provocative theories on how cooking influences gender-based roles and inequalities in society. It's certainly a thought-provoking work, even if I don't agree with some of the conclusions he's drawing from his evidence.
However, I am finding that the frequent repetition of facts and theories, coupled with the narrator's oddly-paced and rather wooden style, more than a little off-putting. The audiobook runs a bit less than seven hours, but at about six hours in, it feels like I've been listening to it a lot longer!
I found this book compelling in both ideas and ease of listening. The author provides a well-supported glimpse into the shaping of human culture, from brain and species evolution to gender roles. I had to laugh in agreement that, indeed, regardless of professional or business life, in the end, women are the cooks for men and family. Enlightening to hear a view as to why. This book has generated great conversation at our evening dinner table and continues to perk in my mind.
I approached this book with optimism. It's an interesting, perhaps persuasive, argument by someone who knows what he's talking about. What could go wrong?
To be fair, I would have been much more impressed if the book had been published 25 years ago. Today it reads like a blog post: good ideas, relatively well written, but short on detailed evidence.
Post-post-modernism and post-internet, that just isn't good enough. Today, every fledgling new scientific idea has to fight for its life in the blogosphere against all kinds of criticism, both well- and ill-informed, before gaining much acceptance. Scientists, as a group, have also lost a good deal of the moral authority they once had. Readers are beginning to realize that what a scientist writes isn't always good science -- or science at all -- and we automatically try to identify and compensate for the writer's personal agenda as soon as we're past the title page.
This makes Wrangham's Paleolithic Cook Book look a little under-done. Sure, the idea that cooking was instrumental in turning habilenes into modern humans is attractive; but cool ideas aren't enough. Wrangham includes some interesting comparative physiology (humans have unreasonably small guts), and that's a strong point. However, his argument that we traded guts for brains is more or less pure speculation -- to say nothing of all the social psychology he attempts to extract from this observation. Wrangham relies a good deal on hunter-gatherer ethnology, but it's all anecdotal. Plus, that kind of anthropology has never recovered from its politicized self-immolation after the Chagnon/Yanomamo controversy and carries little weight today.
The discussion of human evolution is weak. If, for example, Neanderthals really developed the advanced cooking techniques he ascribes to them, and if cooking is really that important, then why doesn't Wrangham have a sloping forehead and brow ridges? Wrangham isn't much bothered by that issue because he seems to have a linear, 1960's-style idea of human evolution. Neanderthals came "before" H. sapiens in the Great Chain, right?
This is getting too long for a review, so I'll stop. The main point is that the book makes for a good snack, but it's not substantial enough to make a solid meal today. It may work up an appetite for the subject; but, like our distant ancestors eating raw food, you can chew on this presentation a long time and still not get enough out of it.
This was a fascinating audio book about some of the early behaviors of human beings. The author does a wonderful job and the style in which he writes the book, to help the readers get a visual picture of what life must of been like in the very beginnings of human existence. And he manages to do this without becoming “overly technical or scientific”.
This would be a great book for anyone to read who's interested in the evolution of humans and how the advent of fire/cooking rapidly begin to shape us into the modern human beings we are today.
I really enjoyed this book. It was thoughtful, well-argued, and engaging. Definitely worth thinking about for fans of pre-history and broad social history in general.
I purchased this book for a road trip my brother and law and I took. He loves anything to do with cooking so I figured it would at least mildly interest him and I. I was wrong. The author failed to spark any interest or thought with this book. Except for some facts here and there, he strayed on to subjects like spiders who secrete wax to feed males on their backs or how one tribal woman slept with every bachelor in the village. The narrator reminded me a lot of Scott Brick.... whom has spoiled many otherwise good books for me in the past with his snide reading style. If your expecting a warm, enlightening and entertaining book about the subject of using fire to cook... this is NOT it.
Interesting idea - but only interesting enough to carry me for about 30 minutes. After that, it felt repetitive, and was just adding more details to prove an argument that was already proved.