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)
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!
enlightening, insightful, thoughtful...
the dawn of the separative job assignments....
Nice rhythm and tone
Why we cook???
I live in Thailand, and love to listen to audible.
I loved this book! It will change everything you ever knew about cooking, men and women, evolution, nutrition, and life for us humans here on earth, compared to animals. It is shocking. A definite must read, great narration too! If you ever wanted to know why we are different from animals, this answers it. Listen and find out.
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.
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