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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Humanby Richard Wrangham
Richard Wrangham's lucid, fascinating book presents a strong case that the act of harnessing the power of fire to cook food might have created modern humanity. Convincing, thoughtful, and beautifully written, Catching Fire is a surprising look at the evolution of our species.
Synopses & 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 key factor in human evolution. When our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity began. Once our hominid ancestors began cooking their food, the human digestive tract shrank and the brain grew. Time once spent chewing tough raw food could be sued instead to hunt and to tend camp. Cooking became the basis for pair bonding and marriage, created the household, and even led to a sexual division of labor.
Tracing the contemporary implications of our ancestors' diets, Catching Fire sheds new light on how we came to be the social, intelligent, and sexual species we are today. A pathbreaking new theory of human evolution, Catching Fire will provoke controversy and fascinate anyone interested in our ancient origins — or in our modern eating habits.
"Contrary to the dogmas of raw-foods enthusiasts, cooked cuisine was central to the biological and social evolution of humanity, argues this fascinating study. Harvard biological anthropologist Wrangham (Demonic Males) dates the breakthrough in human evolution to a moment 1.8 million years ago, when, he conjectures, our forebears tamed fire and began cooking. Starting with Homo erectus — who should perhaps be renamed Homo gastronomicus — these innovations drove anatomical and physiological changes that make us "adapted to eating cooked food" the way "cows are adapted to eating grass." By making food more digestible and easier to extract energy from, Wrangham reasons, cooking enabled hominids' jaws, teeth and guts to shrink, freeing up calories to fuel their expanding brains. It also gave rise to pair bonding and table manners, and liberated mankind from the drudgery of chewing (while chaining womankind to the stove). 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. More than that, Wrangham offers a provocative take on evolution — suggesting that, rather than humans creating civilized technology, civilized technology created us. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)
"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." New York Times
"Wrangham has a curious mind, in all the best senses....
"Experts will debate Wrangham's thesis, but most readerswill be convinced by this lucid, simulating foray into popular anthropology." Kirkus Reviews
In Catching Fire, renowned primatologist Richard Wrangham argues that our evolutionary success is the result of cooking. Once our hominid ancestors began cooking, the human digestive tract shrank and the brain grew; and pair bonding, marriage, the household, and even the sexual division of labor emerged. A pathbreaking theory of human evolution, Catching Fire will fascinate anyone interested in our ancient origins — or our modern eating habits.
About the Author
Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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