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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  2,136 Ratings  ·  318 Reviews
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 th ...more
Hardcover, 309 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by Basic Books (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Dec 04, 2013 Charlie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did not enjoy this book.

The main premise was that cooking makes food easier to consume as well as easier to digest. This advancement allowed humans to consume more energy to support a bigger brain.

Now you do not have to read this book.
Summer Bock, Holistic Nutrition & Herbs
From the first page I liked the writing style. I found it easy to follow and understand, although a good knowledge of either nutrition or anthropology will make it a faster and more comprehensible read.

According to Wrangham, there are no raw food cultures ever recorded in human history. Yes, people eat foods raw but no culture has ever done this exclusively. Using this and other points, he provides an interesting critique to the raw movement.

Throughout the book Wrangham impressed me with the q
I'm feeling especially lazy at the moment and not wanting to think enough to write even my standard lazy review, so I'll just say that I thought parts of this were very interesting, and other parts of it were stretching a bit to make things fit the theory.

It was well-read though, and I would recommend it, so that's a plus.
Jun 22, 2012 Maria rated it liked it
I learned so many random facts in the first chapter, including the little-touted fact that raw foodism is unhealthy— eating completely raw doesn't provide the amount of energy necessary, despite the fact that calorie intake is sufficient. Basically, the amount of energy required to digest the fruits and vegetables isn't enough to keep someone alive for a long period of time. This was very good to know, as I'd been thinking of going raw when we got back home (merely to see what it was like). Now, ...more
Apr 04, 2010 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
How did australopithecines develop into Homo erectus? The traditional answer has been that the use of tools allowed them to hunt, and that the increased protein in the diet allowed the developmental spurt toward a bigger brain. But there are two, not one, major jumps in development along this road toward Homo sapiens. Richard Wrangham argues that the first, as has been established, resulted from hunting and eating more meat (and not just consuming scavenged meat), but that the second came from ...more
Amy Raby
Mar 27, 2014 Amy Raby rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book! Just so you know, it is NOT the Hunger Games sequel! This is an anthropology/evolutionary biology book that posits the theory that what made us human--that is, what allowed us to develop bigger brains and many of the unique aspects of human culture--was not hunting, but the use of fire to cook our food. And that the acquisition of fire happened much earlier than is generally assumed, at the time of homo erectus, not homo sapiens.

There is a really interesting discussio
Mar 30, 2014 Donna rated it it was ok
Any time you see the phrase "How _____ made us human" you know you're going to see a whole lot of over-selling of an idea. Bipedality, language, cooperation, tool use, cooking of food, and many other factors went in to making us the species we are today.

How the cooking of food shaped our evolution is an interesting topic but I did not find this a particularly interesting book. Wrangham starts out by spending an inordinate amount of time bashing people who eat raw food diets. It went way beyond p
Judyta Szaciłło
"Cathing fire" is an interesting book. It presents some ideas that are original and thought-provoking about the phenomena that made us human. Some of them are perhaps too far-stretched and the author is too busy focusing on his main subject - processing the food - to notice the conglomerate of many other influences, not rooted in the food (pre)history. In short, the book offers interesting contents, but it is too biased.
It is also too repetitive - the same arguments appear dozens of times on its
Dave Riley
Aug 30, 2010 Dave Riley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, ecology, history
Great review of the possibilities of our origins with a persuasive argument about cooking being a driving force for human evolution. Cross species comparisons make a lot of sense as Wrangham develops his argument.

Essential read, especially when he addresses gender issues. He sidesteps the challenge of the origins of language but nonetheless locates humans in the context of changing and challenging environments.
Wrangham's thesis is that fire is what made modern humans. We didn't just learn to use fire because we were so smart: using fire actually gave us an evolutionary advantage which led to our being smart. In a nutshell: cooked food is more nutritious and easier to eat, thus allowing our evolutionary ancestors to acquire more calories for less effort, increasing their survival and also freeing up more time for things like inventing the wheel.

At first this may seem counter-intuitive, but Wrangham mak
Nov 02, 2009 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
Wrangham presents and defends well the hypothesis that cooking had major evolutionary consequences for the development of anatomically modern humans, including diminishment in size of mandibles, dentition, and intestines. He presents good arguments for the early control of fire and for its use in cooking by at least one group of habilines who then evolved into Homo erectus. His arguments for the evolutionary advantages provided by cooked food (less time spent in chewing, more calories available ...more
Before reading this book, I was leery of the raw food movement, but now I know why. Wrangham exposes the pseudoscientific justifications for the movement, some of which are unbelievably ridiculous (such as that the cessation of a woman's menstrual period is a good thing because it means that the raw foodist no longer has any toxins to clear out of the body). Apparently, a strict raw-food diet would not give a person enough energy to meet his/ her needs. I don't have to feel any guilt for my ...more
Jane Louis-Wood
This author makes a convincing case for consumption of cooked food and nocturnal fires being the spur to humans developing the physiological characteristics that made them properly human: slow to mature, large of brain and free of fur (n.b. hipsters are not properly human). Wrangham refutes other hypotheses effectively and goes into riveting detail about the consequences of cooking on the evolution of the human body.

His theories about how food affected social behaviour, however, are largely supp
Aug 05, 2015 Ubiquitousbastard rated it really liked it
This basically offered everything I wanted out of it. The book explored how fire affected human development, but went beyond humans, stating it likely that Erectus and maybe even Habilis began our love affair with cooked food. Wrangham didn't just conjecture, but used similar species as well as primitive societies still in existence in order to demonstrate natural inclinations. Sure, it went sort of gender history toward the end, but Wrangham's reasoning did seem rather believable, if slightly ...more
I'm not usually a fan of evolutionary psychology, since much of it is un-provable/un-falsifiable "just-so" stories. But some of the ideas in this book seem plausible and have good supporting evidence.
Wrangham shows that true raw foodists are very rare. Even hunter-gatherer societies cook their food whenever they get a chance, and they even grind grains into flour and bake things (despite what all the "Paleo diet" pseudo-prehistory would have you believe).
We seem to get much more out of digesting
Romantical Skeptic
Mar 09, 2016 Romantical Skeptic rated it really liked it
This was a quick and easy-to-digest (ahem) read on the prehistory of cooking.

Wrangham's main points

1) Cooking as a way of "processing" food must have happened before homo erectus (hominids who looked like sapiens and very different from australopithecus - small jaws, smaller guts)
2) Cooking explains how homo erectus, habilis and sapiens was freed up to do other things than chew raw things (which can take 40% of a primate's time)
3) Cooking made food more bioavailable so that it took less "mass" t
Mar 13, 2012 Mkb rated it liked it
I enjoyed it for the most part. Wrangham's work with chimpanzees results in totally interesting asides where he discusses his observations about them and then reports back what he found out when he did what they did (chewed raw goat meat with a leaf, etc.). I was also really taken with his chapter on raw food-ism as one hears more and more about it these days. The surveys he looked at seem to suggest it is hard for humans (esp. those who don,t have access to out-of-season, high quality foods ...more
Sep 05, 2013 Rakan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, favorites
مما يميز الإنسان عن سائر أبناء عمومته من القردة العليا هو ضآلة جهازه الهضمي. فم صغير، شفاه رقيقة، أسنان لا تقوى على القضم والتقطيع بفعالية، وأحشاء مدللة. نستطيع الإستنتاج من هذه المعطيات أننا تطورنا -بطريقة ما- لنأكل الغذاء المطبوخ.

يرى البروفسور ريتشارد رانغام، بروفسور الأنثروبولوجيا البيولوجية في جامعة هارفارد، أن القدرة على طهي الطعام كانت عاملاً مهماً في تطورنا كبشر. هذه القدرة الجديدة جعلتنا نأخذ من الأرض مسكناً بدل الأشجار. النار حررت أسلافنا من الطبيعة التي كانت تقيدهم مما آذن بفجر جديد،
Nicole McCann
I don't know why I can't find a listing with the English title, but it's "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human."

This book was definitely my least favorite I've read in a while. There were some parts that had me completely engrossed, such as through evolution how our brains grew so large due to our stomachs getting smaller; while other parts just bored the hell out of me and were repetitive, such as softer cooked food giving our bodies more energy. I will say that it was really nerdy and awes
Jon Archer
Many fascinating tidbits in this book. The one which sticks most in my mind weeks after I actually read this is that people who insist on a raw food diet are essentially malnourished. This even when they have access to the best fruit and veg (far better than hunter-gatherers would have had 10,000+ years ago before we started selectively enhancing them) and available out of season. In a study of German raw-foodists, a large majority of the women of child-bearing age had stopped menstruating, i.e. ...more
Oct 23, 2013 Praxedes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book! My good friend Zak recommended this title and now I do the same to everyone I talk to. Thoughfully explained in layman terms by a Harvard primatologist, 'Catching Fire' posits a new theory where the transition from a raw food diet to cooked meals is as integral to human evolution as major climactic changes, the creation of language, or the invention of the wheel. It is meticulously researched and annotated (important to Librarians such as me) and written in a way that is both ...more
Aug 03, 2009 Ann rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
This is another one that started out pretty well, but about half way through I got bogged down again. I think he's right on with his premise that cooking is the thing that made us human but he really beat it to death. Even though he brought up many things that clearly support this theory in many other cases it seemed to me that he was bending the evidence to fit. He could have left out about half the book and made a nice clear case.
Hani Naim
Jan 17, 2016 Hani Naim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
كتاب جيّد يُلقي الضوء على دور الطهي في تطور الإنسان وتغيير مسيرته، وعن أهميّة النار في تغيير حياتنا إلى الأبد. هذا الكتاب هو مقاربة مختلفة لحياة الإنسان من منظور طهي الطعام.

من الملاحظات على الكتاب هو أنه يحتوي على معلومات وتفاصيل لا تهم كثيراً القارىء العادي وقد يكون الاخصائيون في مجال التاريخ البشري معنيين بها أكثر.

Dec 27, 2009 Audra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who get curious about it
Recommended to Audra by: new york times?
Absorbing reading about how cooking was discovered and developed --and how it was essential to the development of the human brain as we know it. Much I didn't know. The author seems evenhanded in many ways, e.g. crediting women as well as men with their contributions to our evolution; such a change from anthro/archeological works I was reading a few years ago.
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human is based on a fascinating theory. The theory seems very plausible. However, the evidence to support the theory are not concrete enough yet. Sadly, I found the writing to be very dry. This would have been a 2 star rating, but the content of the epilogue concerning nutrition redeemed the book somewhat, raising my rating to 3 stars.
Nov 22, 2014 Marjan rated it really liked it
I generally agree with the basic premises but in a world of caloric abundance this is more an argument for raw foods rather than cooked. Quite interesting read, well written, with lots of interesting archeological and anthropological tales that are interesting in their own right. ;)
Jan 19, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing
The best popular science books I read are the ones that I'm constantly reminded of while just living my ordinary life, which in a way helps make the point of the author that cooking is a fundamental part of human life and has been for a long time.
Mar 08, 2012 Rock rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I've been waiting since around page 50 to write this: For a book about cooking, this thing is half-baked.
Ashley Drees
Dec 06, 2012 Ashley Drees rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
read it, makes sense to me, but i always march, ride or travel with my first eye to the belly... thanks helen for this.
Oct 12, 2014 Nora rated it really liked it
I learned many facts about animals and bugs and early humans!
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Richard W. Wrangham, Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Harvard College Professor, Head Tutor in 2008-2009, Director of Graduate Studies in 2009-2010
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“Hundreds of different hunter-gatherer cultures have been described, and all obtained a substantial proportion of their diet from meat, often half their calories or more.” 2 likes
“The weight of our guts is estimated at about 60 percent of what is expected for a primate of our size: the human digestive system as a whole is much smaller than would be predicted on the basis of size relations in primates. Our small mouths, teeth, and guts fit well with the softness, high caloric density, low fiber content, and high digestibility of cooked food.” 2 likes
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