How Cooking Made Us Human
By Richard Wrangham
(Basic Books, Hardcover, 9780465013623, 320pp.)
Publication Date: May 2009
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A startling new theory that the invention of cooking led to the creation of the human species
Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and Curator of Primate Behavioral Biology at the Peabody Museum. He is the co-author of Demonic Males and co-editor of Chimpanzee Cultures. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, primatologist Richard Wrangham argues that cooking gave early humans an advantage over other primates, leading to larger brains and more free time. Wrangham discusses his theory, and why Homo sapiens can't live on raw food alone. More at NPR.org
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How Cooking Made Us Human: Since the 1950s, scientists have hypothesized that the key factor bringing our ancestors down from the trees was the decision to eat meat. In this persuasively argued book, Richard Wrangham disagrees. Instead, he writes, it was the decision to cook with fire that literally made us human.
“[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, starred review
“[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.”
“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.”
The Harvard Brain
“With clear and engaging prose, Catching Fire addresses a key and enduring scientific issue central to the quest to understand our species. It offers new insights for anyone interested in human evolution, history, anthropology, nutrition, and for everyone interested in food."
Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University
“In this thoroughly researched and marvelously well written book, Richard Wrangham has convincingly supplied a missing piece in the evolutionary origin of humanity.”
Matt Ridley, author of Genome and The Agile Gene
“Cooking completely transformed the human race, allowing us to live on the ground, develop bigger brains and smaller mouths, and invent specialized sex roles. This notion is surprising, fresh and, in the hands of Richard Wrangham, utterly persuasive. He brings to bear evidence from chimpanzees, fossils, food labs, and dieticians. Big, new ideas do not come along often in evolution these days, but this is one.”
Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible and How to Grill; host of Primal Grill
“A book of startling originality and breathtaking erudition. Drawing on disciplines as diverse as anthropology, sociology, biology, chemistry, physics, literature, nutrition, and cooking, Richard Wrangham addresses two simple but very profound questions: How did we evolve from Australopithecus to Homo sapiens, and what makes us human? The answer can be found at your barbecue grill and I dare say it will surprise you…”
Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma
“Catching Fire is convincing in argument and impressive in its explanatory power. A rich and important book.”
“…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.”
The New York Times
“‘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.”
“Brilliant… a fantastically weird way of looking at evolutionary change.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“As new angles go, it's pretty much unbeatable.”
The Washington Post
“Wrangham draws together previous studies and theories from disciplines as diverse as anthropology, biology, chemistry, sociology and literature into a cogent and compelling argument.”
“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."
“Richard Wrangham presents this thesis in a concise, cogent, and accessible way.”
The New York Times Book Review
“A new theory of human evolution – ‘the cooking hypothesis’ – is related in plain-spoken, gripping language.”