There are good reasons why, given a choice between raw and cooked food, most primates - including monkeys, chimpanzees, and the vast majority of humans - prefer their food cooked. For starters, cooked food is easier to eat and richer in both flavor and nutrients. Although we humans aren’t the only animals who would rather eat our food like this, we are the only ones who get to make the choice. In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, author Richard Wrangham argues that the extra energy provided by the cooking process paved the way for the evolutionary transition from ape to man.
Though the purpose of his book is to illustrate this “cooking hypothesis”, Wrangham’s skill as a writer obviates the need for compromise between entertaining and informing his audience. His narrative is replete with fascinating examples and well-chosen anecdotes, like the story of Dr. Beaumont, whose significant contributions to our understanding of digestion came largely from his experiments on St. Martin, a patient whose life he had saved after St. Martin was accidentally shot. The incident left Beaumont’s patient with a permanent hole in his stomach - and a window through which to view gastric processes.
Kevin Parseau delivers a wonderful narration of Catching Fire that is consistently in harmony with the book’s tone and content. Parseau has a deep, musical voice and an unhurried but lively sense of pacing. His reading contains an element of wonder common to the greatest science and nature narrators, without ever taking on an undesirable, zealous character.
Wrangham’s compelling scientific discourse is, in itself, a little like cooked food. Significant studies from the fields of anthropology, evolutionary biology, and nutrition are carefully distilled and broken down. Each of Wrangham’s arguments is carefully thought-out, rich in a variety of evidence, and clearly presented - in short, his ideas are both easy to digest and substantive, and the result is an intellectually satisfying, fascinating exploration of what makes us human. –Emily Elert
In a groundbreaking theory of our origins, Wrangham shows that the shift from raw to cooked foods was the key factor in human evolution. When our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity began. 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 used 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.
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.
©2009 Richard Wrangham; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"[A] fascinating study...Wrangham's lucid, accessible treatise ranges across nutritional science, Paleontology and studies of ape behavior and hunter-gatherer societies; the result is a tour de force of natural history and a profound analysis of cooking's role in daily life." (Publishers Weekly)
"Catching Fire is convincing in argument and impressive in its explanatory power. A rich and important book." (Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma)
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.
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!
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.
Well researched but makes a few conclusions that seem poorly supported by the facts as laid out. I think that this is reasonable as a form of hypothesis, however it is often presented as conclusion.
Example (paraphrased): Without cooking men would not have had enough time to hunt to an extent that they could have contributed significantly to gender based division of labor. I am not disagreeing, but there the idea is presented with a blizzard of facts that do little to support the conclusion.
Even so, there is a wealth of information here, and very interesting hypotheses presented.
I had a hard time maintaining interest in this book even though the subject matter itself is very interesting for me.
I don't think so
No, I haven't
I would have preferred Bill Brysons style of writing. Maybe some humor sprinkled in there.
Really wonderful scientific exposition of a very fascinating theory.
The language is clear and the examples simple but to the point, and especially it is absolutely not redundant when giving them.
The last chapter is a very welcome bonus linking the main content of the book with our everyday experience.
The performance of Pariseau is functional and clear, without special effects but not dull. The recording quality is not perfect though.
Thoroughly convincing that humans can not and could not survive without fire. Humans can not be human without it. Homo Habilis seems to have done all the heavy lifting in getting us from smart-ape to the modern form of human (at least from the neck down) about 2 million years ago. Homo Habilis seems to have started the stone age and learned to control fire and cook. What an accomplishment!
Next came Homo Erectus about 1.8 million years ago. If you put a Homo Erectus in a business suit and saw him on a bus in Manhattan, you might not look twice. From the neck down he would look completely normal. He'd be a little freakish looking from the neck up. But with a hat and sunglasses.... Behaviorally, however, he might be very unpredictable and dangerous. I digress.I feel I learned a great deal about humanity from this book. And the information contained here would be hard for a layman to obtain from any other source. It appears that the conclusions reached in this book have provoked some dischord by upending human development timelines from archeology. This new synthesis pushes the use of fire back about a million years. That's rocking the boat. How much fun is that!
Learning about expensive tissue theory, and the highlights of evolutionary digestion made listening to this most enjoyable.
The Origins of Political Order From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama
Kevin Pariseau has a "David Attenborough-like" narrative quality. He also nails some tribal pronunciations to great enjoyment.
The expensive tissue theory is the most interesting tidbit from this book.
I found this book to be a bit dry at points. Yet overall, I must admit it is rather illuminating. As a novice/outsider to evolutionary anthropology, I feel like it bridged a gap in understanding for me. Particularly, the thesis/thrust of the book linking how cooking with fire changed our ancestors diet patterns and then in turn their cognition and behavior. The expensive tissue theory with the reallocation of tissue from the gut to the brain is mind blowing. I would like to learn more about that from a biochemist's point of view. Also, towards the end, he goes into the current trends and studies surrounding nutrition and metabolism. I would be curious to learn more about contemporary studies akin to David Atwaters experiment, that could foster better nutrition labeling and hopefully curb the pandemic of obesity in America and abroad. Worth a read, but certainly worth a listen. Thanks Audible!
Report Inappropriate Content