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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important contribution to anthropology, June 27, 2009
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This review is from: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Hardcover)
Anthropology is supposed to be the scientific study of humankind. Unfortunately, since its inception, it has been inundated by carefully disguised pseudoscience - attempts to use scientific data to support the preconceived biases of the investigators. Typically these biases (aka hypotheses) have been ethnocentric and agrocentric, and the arguments used to support them are often composed of flawed logic in the service of false implications. How relieving to read Wrangham's book, which actually appears to draw hypotheses from observations rather than a self-aggrandizing belief system. The author then analyzes realistic and sensible implications of these hypotheses, testing them in a simple but logical way that makes his conclusions seem obvious.

This is the kind of book that makes one wonder, "Why hasn't this been argued before?" While his book is rather small and the ideas are not deeply explored, this is largely because the hypotheses that Wrangham presents are quite new. I believe that his ideas will be supported, refined, and expanded by further investigation.

While some of his ideas appear outdated or unsupported (for example, he seems to suggest that hunter-gatherers were poorly nourished compared to later farmers, when in fact a substantial body of archeological evidence points to the contrary being true), and he makes some assumptions that are unfounded (for example, that human diets without cooking would be comparable to those of chimpanzees. This is highly unlikely, since pre-humans were bipedal, which suggests a far greater mobility geared toward different food preferences than apes that move on all fours or in trees. It is possible, if not likely, that human ancestors used their greater mobility to extract higher quality food from a larger home range more selectively than chimps.)

However, despite these shortfalls, the ideas presented in the book are extremely important to the study of human evolution and anthropology, as well as the endless and robust contemporary debates about nutrition and health. The book reflects something that I have been telling participants in my wild food foraging workshops for years: that cooking and processing food is the most significant human invention of all time. We would be wise to remain aware of that, and I am grateful that this author has increased my understanding of this issue.

Indeed, I feel that this is the single most important contribution to anthropology in decades. It is also well written, enough so to keep the interest of the casual reader.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 21, 2009 8:37:26 PM PST
I didn't think that Wrangham suggests that hunter-gatherers were poorly nourished in comparison to settled farmers; indeed, he makes a point of how all hunter-gatherers cook the majority of their foods. It seemed to me that Wrangham is comparing hunter-gatherers not to farmers, but to habiline homininds, who ate meat but probably didn't cook.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 5, 2010 6:41:45 PM PST
Sam Thayer says:
You either missed the specific part I am referring to, or you misconstrued it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 6, 2010 3:14:56 PM PST
Either or both could be true - I am not infallible! Would you please point me to the part to which you were referring?
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