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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,446 ratings  ·  260 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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Charlie
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.
Becky
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.
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
...more
Amy Raby
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
...more
Donna
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
...more
Maria
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
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
...more
Michael
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
Kate
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
Rakan
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،
...more
Emily
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
...more
David
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
...more
Leanne
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
Jerzy
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
...more
Mkb
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
...more
Marjan
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. ;)
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
Praxedes
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 ent ...more
Ann
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.
Nora
I learned many facts about animals and bugs and early humans!
Dave Riley
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.
Audra
Dec 27, 2009 Audra rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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.
Zakariah Johnson
People (meaning you) cannot indefinitely live--at least not well enough to breed--on a diet of uncooked food. We are utterly dependent on fire, which renders food more easily digestible and absorbable by our bodies. Why is this so? Blame it on your ancestors, who've been cooking food in order to enhance its nutritious value for roughly 2,000,000 years.
Dave Schey
Cooking changed how we evolved. Wrangham thinks that by the time our ancestors, Homo erectus, evolved (1.8 million years ago), they had control of fire and were using it to cook their food. Cooking softens food, making it more easily digested. Consequently, our ancestors did not have to eat as much or as often, freeing them up to hunt more. Evolutionary effects of cooking lead to smaller teeth, a smaller digestive system, and a larger brain. The smaller digestive system freed up energy created b ...more
Silas
While I enjoyed this book, it was much shorter than I had expected. I really thought there would be more presented here. As it was, there was a good bit about how raw food diets are not good and a criticism of our means of determining how many calories are in a given food (the number of calories burned are not the same as those that are available through digestion). The central idea (that modern humans evolved to be dependent on cooked food, and the additional energy made available by this chang ...more
Ashley Drees
read it, makes sense to me, but i always march, ride or travel with my first eye to the belly... thanks helen for this.
Rock
I've been waiting since around page 50 to write this: For a book about cooking, this thing is half-baked.
Mysti
The first two chapters busy themselves with a polemical tone - vis. the stupidity and atavism of vegetarians and rawfoodists. Now I like me a good curmudgeon as well as the next sister, but I almost missed the pretty serious paleontology that underwrites Wrangham's thesis: that our sapience is a result of the cultural demands of the cooking process.

While I appreciate the theory, I am not convinced that meat was the major civilizing factor, as gathering could have been (and according to Wm Irwin
...more
Dinah
Interesting. It created a lot of discussion in our book group.

The author believes that the acquiring of the ability to control fire and cook food is what made us human. Cooked food is very much more digestible than raw food which wrings much more energy out of the food we ingest; enables us to spend time doing other things than chew (apes spend 6 to 8 hours a day chewing!!); enables our digestive system to be smaller than that of apes; and frees up more caloric energy for the energy-hungry brai
...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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