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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human Reprint Edition
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"Catching Fire is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that presents nothing less than a new theory of human evolution...one that Darwin (among others) simply missed."―New York Times
About the Author
- Grade level : 11 and up
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0465020410
- ISBN-13 : 978-0465020416
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.73 x 8.2 inches
- Publisher : Basic Books; Reprint edition (September 7, 2010)
- Reading level : 13 and up
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #219,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Not once, the author considers the reality of the men risking their lives and dying in the hunts, as the reason for the bargaining of being cooked by their women. It's just a marxist oppression regime according to the author, everything is about the power exercised by the men.
Never once, the author considered the willingness of men to take risks and actual deaths occurring until today, where more than 90% of work related deaths, are men.
It's a shame when supposedly scientific works are tainted with this kind of non-sense left leaning politics and agenda.
Drawing on a number of food studies, ethnographic data, as well as his own primatological research, Dr. Wrangham argues that the transition from Homo habilis to Homo erectus would be impossible without a regular supply of cooked food. Citing the general unpalatability and undigestibility of a chimp's diet for modern humans, the seeming energy deficit seen in raw food proponents, the chemical changes that occur in foods that are cooked and the subsequent absorption of the unlocked calories, and the increasing reduction of our early ancestors' gastrointestinal tract through the millennia, he is convinced that the utilization of fire for cooking has its origins much farther in the past than the current evidence from the archaeological record tells us. The discrepancy between the archaeological record and his claim is around 1 million years, an incredibly large gap to bridge. In the latter third of the book, Wrangham makes the tangential argument that cooking is also what spurred our cultural evolution, e.g., concepts such as pair-bonding and the sexual division of labor, through the creation of a sort of "protection racket" that guards women from food thieves and ensures men a ready supply of food.
While I did enjoy reading Dr. Wrangham's book and readily admit that he makes some interesting and valid points, I am not convinced of the veracity of his hypothesis, especially in the light of more recent research on the variability and actions of the microbiome present in the digestive tracts of animals. In presenting his case for the need of cooked food for an increased energy supply in late habilines/early erectus, he ignores the fact that much of the successive change in the musculoskeletal morphology leading to our species had the effect of allowing us to conserve energy through increased efficiency of movement.
This does not necessarily mean that Dr. Wrangham is incorrect. However, the gaps in his arguments, coupled with the gaps in our own knowledge, have effectively rendered the cooking hypothesis unfalsifiable. There very well may come a time when the available physical evidence supports his position, but for now the only appropriate response is one of interest, skepticism, and further research.
Wrangham does not specifically state this but he implies it strongly. The Atwater system of calorie counting is wrong. That's the system that tells us that protein and carbohydrates yield 4 kilocalories per gram and fat 9. It also leads to the conclusion that raw food and cooked food are equal in their nutrition. This is a central point in the book. Atwater in the nineteenth century devised the procedure by which we measure the caloric value of a food article by burning it in a bomb calorimeter. This procedure is cheap and easy whereas Wrangham has to use evidence to the contrary based on measurements taken from the contents of person's colostomy bags who have eaten supervised diets. This procedure is more adequate scientifically but expensive and difficult. If you follow the simple, cheap Atwater conventions as almost everyone does then cooking hardly seems important at all. Food is food - no matter if raw or cooked. That's why Wrangham's insights will probably strike you as new.
As a primatologist Wrangham has a number of chimp anecdotes that stick with you. He points out that chimpanzees spend at least four or five hours each day just chewing. No wonder they never got around to building a civilization. Wrangham believes that <I> Homo erectus</I> emerged when they developed cooking as a way to externalize digestion thus freeing up their time and energy. Anthropology changes all the time, his specific theory may prove to have been wrong. Cooking may have arisen earlier or later than he thinks. But whatever else is subsequently learned, this is an important book.
Top reviews from other countries
Levi-Strauss, in his The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a science of mythology (Pimlico), wrote that fire marks the transition from nature to culture. Few would dispute that the cuisine of any nation is a major trademark of its cultural somplexity and sophistication. And cooking, in its many diverse methods (grilling, steaming, boiling, baking etc) is an essential part of any major cuisine in the world.
Our bodies evolved because we learned to cook: besides a smaller stomach and larger brain, we lost our climbing ability (no need to climb if fire can protect camp on the ground) in favor of better running skills. And we have much smaller teeth compared to our ancestors who did not cook.
Cooking also played an essential role in making mankind a carnivore, as it makes it efficient to digest and store large amount of animal proteins in a way that would have been unthinkable with just raw meat. But for vegetarians there is some consolation as well: cooking made it possible to digest many more types of roots.
Finally, this book dwelves on the social implications of cooking: how it shaped the man/woman relationship in the house, and how it made it easier to use meals as a social event. Some cultures have peculiar (to us) habits: among the Bonerif of Papua, a woman will sleep with every man in the village except her brothers before finally getting married; but the moment she feeds a man she is irrevocably considered his wife!
I'd recommend this book first, then "Demonic Males" followed by "The Goodness Paradox" - I feel it presents the subject in the most logical order.
Overall, an enjoyable and informative read, I'd really like to give 4.5 stars or 9/10 for this book.
Perhaps more of a popular science book than a food book, you won't find any recipes or many applications of the evolutionary ideas to modern day cooking. But you will find a good amount of theory- well sourced and ideas clearly explained- concerning our culinary development. I might have hoped for a little more detail in developing the ideas, and perhaps some discussion of how these ideas affect our gastronomy today- the book has a large font and, without the `notes' sections, only totals around 200 pages. There are many interesting examples for each idea presented, looking at tribes which developed society independently of ours. Overall, there are a lot of good ideas presented, and it's worth a read, from both a science and a culinary perspective. 8/10.