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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

Ever since Darwin and The Descent of Man, the existence 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. 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.

Critic Reviews

  • Top 10 Books of 2009 (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)
  • Books of the Year 2009 (The Economist)
"[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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Very Important

This book is really well-argued and full of important points, but I wish it was more thorough and all-encompassing.

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Raw Foodists, Beware!

What did you love best about Catching Fire?

The science. Although I understood that most of this book is theory, I still understood the logic, research, and science behind it. I found it very interesting.

Any additional comments?

This book addressed and confronted raw foodists (cooked food is poison crowd) and went point by point why raw food as an exclusive diet (vegan or carnivorous) doesn't result in the best of health. It addressed why modern food processing methods are harmful, why raw food or other trendy/fad diets are harmful, and how cooked food made us what we are. Fascinating and compelling. Highly recommended.

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Well worth the listen

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.

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Difficult to get into for me

What disappointed you about Catching Fire?

I had a hard time maintaining interest in this book even though the subject matter itself is very interesting for me.

Would you ever listen to anything by Richard Wrangham again?

I don't think so

Have you listened to any of Kevin Pariseau’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, I haven't

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Catching Fire?

I would have preferred Bill Brysons style of writing. Maybe some humor sprinkled in there.

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Wonderful exposition of a fascinating theory

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.

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Worth a Listen

Lots of interesting facts about about the use of fire in cooking & nutrition (I'm interested in nutrition anyway, so I might be biased).

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Fire necessary for survival for 2 millions years

Any additional comments?

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!

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How my audible book review process caught fire

What made the experience of listening to Catching Fire the most enjoyable?

Learning about expensive tissue theory, and the highlights of evolutionary digestion made listening to this most enjoyable.

What do you think your next listen will be?

The Origins of Political Order From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama

What does Kevin Pariseau bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Kevin Pariseau has a "David Attenborough-like" narrative quality. He also nails some tribal pronunciations to great enjoyment.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

The expensive tissue theory is the most interesting tidbit from this book.

Any additional comments?

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!

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Food for thought...

If you could sum up Catching Fire in three words, what would they be?

enlightening, insightful, thoughtful...

What was one of the most memorable moments of Catching Fire?

the dawn of the separative job assignments....

What about Kevin Pariseau’s performance did you like?

Nice rhythm and tone

If you could give Catching Fire a new subtitle, what would it be?

Why we cook???

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  • Cindy
  • Olympia, Wa
  • 04-19-14

Interesting and well done

I recommend this book. It provided interesting information, which was presented well. Worth the credit!