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.
I think the content was just too dry- filled with many cited facts leading to the hypothesis of how cooking separated us from other animals- but it was too long and I found my interest waning with each new fact presented.
No- I'm still interested in this genre and recently purchased a similar book that will hopefully be more entertaining while enlightning.
The narrator had a flat voice without much inflection (recognizing that there wasn't much emphasis to be put on the content he was reading).
If you are REALLY interested in this topic then the book will be worthwhile. Otherwise, I suggest you borrow books from the library and research the topic yourself.