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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  1,731 ratings  ·  283 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 the
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Audiobook, Unabridged - Audible Download, 7 pages
Published November 3rd 2009 by Audible, Inc. (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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.
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،
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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. ;)
Ubiquitousbastard
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
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
Elliott
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
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
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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
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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!
Sandy Brusin
Years ago I read African Genesis by anthropologist Robert (?) Ardrey and was horrified by his notion that we were descended from killer apes -- although that certainly helped to explain our thirst for war. In contrast, Richard Wrangham's notion that we are descended from a species of Ape called Homo Erectus that used fire to cook food instead of eating raw food: "The introduction of cooking may well have been the decisive factor in leading man from a primarily animal existence into one that was ...more
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.
Harley Gee
I learned a lot about food in this book. Cooked food vs uncooked food. Never really thought about it before. Wrangham argues that it was the taming of fire that led to cooking that then led to dietary changes that made humanity possible. Hominids from 2 million years ago had relatively small brains. Subsequent species show increased brain size. Modern humans date from around 200,000 years ago. Wrangham argues that it was cooking that provided the energy needed by increasing brain sizes. He argue ...more
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.
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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.” 1 likes
“Recent studies of the digestion of eggs are starting to resolve the argument, showing for the first time that cooked protein is digested much more completely than raw protein.” 0 likes
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