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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,013 Ratings  ·  306 Reviews
Until two million years ago, our ancestors were apelike beings the size of chimpanzees. Then Homo erectus was born and we became human. What caused this extraordinary transformation? In this stunningly original book, renowned primatologist Richard Wrangham argues that cooking created the human race. At the heart of Catching Fire lies an explosive new idea: The habit of eat ...more
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published (first published 2009)
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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.
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
Amy Raby
Mar 27, 2014 Amy Raby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 c ...more
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
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
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 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 most ...more
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 o ...more
Romantical Skeptic
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
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،
May 11, 2010 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Dr. Wrangham is a British Primatologist over at Harvard and his book, “Catching Fire,” is an interesting science book full of nothing but science. He starts with a basic supposition that something happened on the evolutionary boundary between the habilines, largely shown as Homo Habilis and our buddy Home Erectus. By examining the skull structure, chest cavity, molar structure, and the analysis of diet, nutrition and food science, his theory states that humanity made two major jumps:

1. Australop
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
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
Mar 13, 2012 Mkb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 yea ...more
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
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.

Nov 22, 2014 Marjan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ;)
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.
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
May 05, 2015 Elliott rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had an anthropology professor once who devoted significant digressions towards the critique of this book and its author. I got the impression that at some point he had been wronged by Richard Wrangham, or was at the very least envious of the publishing history of the book. Stepping away from that anecdote there are a few problems with the book's hypothesis. Tubers could have been gathered, but to gather enough to maintain the body's caloric requirements would have been time consuming, and not ...more
Aaron Redman
Mar 28, 2015 Aaron Redman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
The thesis of this book is simple: cooking foods was the key innovation that separated us and put us down the evolutionary path to today's humans. What is most admirable was how tight and focused Wrangham was in focusing on elaborating and defending his argument without digressions, using accessible language, and avoiding too much repetition. My experience is that academics writing this type of books typically ad at least 100 extra pages which you will not find here.

The key insight for food syst
Steele Dimmock
I picked up this book and it was quite science based which was fantastic, but I wanted the science of what and how cooking makes food better. I really felt like that was lacking, however the epilogue was AMAZING!!!! If the author built the book out of the science dense epilogue it would have been 5 stars.

The book has the flavour of an anti-raw food treatise, but it doesn't beat you over the head with it, rather guides you to the benefits of cooked food.

Interesting points:
* Eggs can safely be sto
Jan 06, 2016 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marta Zaraska
Oct 08, 2015 Marta Zaraska rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thought provoking, well written book. Richard Wrangham, Harvard University primatologist, believes that, in a way, cooked food made us human. He argues that cooked food is much easier to digest than raw food, and in result makes us gain weight faster. Since digestion is an energy costly process - you burn calories to get calories out of food - the less you have to do of it, the more energy will be left to stay in your body. In Wrangham’s experiments mice fed cooked meat gained more weight that ...more
May 02, 2016 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the Wikipedia article on this book, and it mentions that critics question whether archaeological evidence supports his hypothesis of an early use of fire. I am not well read enough in Biology to be able to speak to his primary biological arguments, but they are quite interesting. His primary hypothesis is that we have relatively small "guts," and that means we spend less energy on digestion. What that opened for us was the ability to spend energy on the brain, that greedy organ. His hypot ...more
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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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