- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (September 7, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465020410
- ISBN-13: 978-0465020416
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 161 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Contrary to the dogmas of raw-foods enthusiasts, cooked cuisine was central to the biological and social evolution of humanity, argues this fascinating study. Harvard biological anthropologist Wrangham (Demonic Males) dates the breakthrough in human evolution to a moment 1.8 million years ago, when, he conjectures, our forebears tamed fire and began cooking. Starting with Homo erectus—who should perhaps be renamed Homo gastronomicus—these innovations drove anatomical and physiological changes that make us adapted to eating cooked food the way cows are adapted to eating grass. By making food more digestible and easier to extract energy from, Wrangham reasons, cooking enabled hominids' jaws, teeth and guts to shrink, freeing up calories to fuel their expanding brains. It also gave rise to pair bonding and table manners, and liberated mankind from the drudgery of chewing (while chaining womankind to the stove). 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. More than that, Wrangham offers a provocative take on evolution—suggesting that, rather than humans creating civilized technology, civilized technology created us. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"[Catching Fire] makes a convincing case for the importance of cooking in the human diet, finding a connection between our need to eat cooked food in order to survive and our preference for soft foods. The popularity of Wonderbread, the digestion of actual lumps of meat, and the dangers of indulging our taste buds all feature in this expository romp through our gustatory evolution."―Seed Magazine
"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
"As new angles go, it's pretty much unbeatable."―San Francisco Chronicle
"Wrangham's attention to the most subtle of behaviors keeps the reader enrapt...a compelling picture, and one that I now contemplate every time I turn on my stove."―Texas Observer
"[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
"An innovative argument that cooked food led to the rise of modern Homo sapiens.... Experts will debate Wrangham's thesis, but most readers will be convinced by this lucid, simulating foray into popular anthropology."―Kirkus Reviews
Top customer reviews
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This book is very well-researched. It is packed with information that the average person will find very interesting and eye opening. We give it all five stars.
Many college students will be assigned Catching Fire and will probably relegate it to the “Read it Later” pile. They may even put it in the “Too long, didn’t read” pile. They will be missing out on a lot of interesting reading.
We suggest that anyone who wants to know more about how diet evolved, how nutritionists determine how many calories are in food, or how we got certain gender roles when it comes to household duties, read this book. You will be glad you did.
Our daughter had this book in her personal library. It had been required reading at her university.
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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.
What does that mean? How has it affected our history as a species? What does cooking do to food and to us?
Dr. Wrangham lays it out with the best evidence we have from history, anthropolgy, archeology, biology, primatology and a little biochemistry. This isn't a "scientific detective story". It's a literature review expanded into book length with explanations for the intelligent layman and needs to be seen this way. The point of the exercise isn't to entertain, although it shouldn't bore the reader. It is to inform and give the general shape of a subject.
The book succeeds wonderfully at this. It lays out how cooking (profoundly) affected our evolution and our most basic social impulses.
The first and last thing it does is deal a few well-placed body blows to raw food fadism. Our relatives have mouths and jaws and digestion well adapted for raw food. We don't. Our tiny teeth, weak jaws, shortened guts and universal preference for easily-assimilated cooked foods represent important evolutionary trade-offs which allowed us to develop our large brains. Much, perhaps too much, evidence is given for this. But it turns out to be important. One of the things which distinguishes us from the other great apes is processing food with heat to make the nutrients more available.
What are the implications? They are shown to be profound from the institution of marriage to food sharing as one of the fundamental human social rituals. It's all clearly laid out and well-developed.
This is what Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality should have been but didn't quite live up to. It will change the way you think about everyday things.