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Just over two and a half million years ago, our brains swelled. Less than a million years later, they swelled again, our posture and our gait changed, our jaws shrank, and we grew taller. These two evolutionary changes define our species, distinguishing us from our fellow primates. Richard Wrangham has new ideas about why these changes occurred. He has no argument with the generally accepted wisdom that our first transformation — from nimble tree-climbing australopithecines to sociable, tool-wielding habilines — was the consequence of a meat diet.

But the character of the second change — from Homo habilis to the protohuman Homo erectus — has never been adequately explained, and Wrangham believes he has the answer: 1. Cooking improves the caloric value of food, and widens the range of what is edible. It literally powered our evolution. Good, big ideas about evolution are rare. Nobody can know for sure when cooking got going because the chances are minute that anyone will ever stumble upon an ancient half-eaten spit-roast and recognise it for what it is.

That archeologists have found earth ovens more than , years old is startling enough. The big news — I think it is big news — is that he succeeds. Catching Fire is that rare thing, an exhilarating science book. And one that, for all its foodie topicality, means to stand the test of time. This is a hominid that chewed less and thought more. The circumstantial evidence Wrangham gathers is, if anything, even more compelling. His review of the anthropological literature, for instance, shows that no one, ancient or modern, settled or nomadic, has ever survived for more than a couple of seasons on an exclusively raw diet.

Humans, Wrangham says, are as adapted to cooked food as cows are to grass. Can we cook ourselves thin? These adaptations are both physical and psychological. Why do women still end up doing more housework than men? Why are so many instances of domestic violence triggered by apparent or perceived failures in the preparation and ready provision of food?

But, once again, the alarm proves false. He grasps the economics of cooking and understands how it may have influenced primate social behaviour. For all our primate inheritance, we are still what we thought we were: an adaptable ape. Our past skews our present behaviour in ways we should try to understand. Ultimately, though, immediate economic circumstance dominates the way we cook and eat and behave around food.

As domestic obesity rates continue to climb, this is both a liberation, and a worry. Available from Telegraph Books Love puzzles? Get the best at Telegraph Puzzles. Books on Amazon. A collection of the best contributions and reports from the Telegraph focussing on the key events, decisions and moments in Churchill's life. This book tells the story of the men and women of Fighter Command who worked tirelessly in air bases scattered throughout Britain to thwart the Nazis.

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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham: review

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Catching Fire

This book was interesting and well-researched the endnotes are about a third of the book , but details were a bit repetitive and beyond the scope of my interest in the topic. I think i would've This was an interesting book about human evolution, well-written and informative. The thing that bugged me about it was the final chapter. The jacket promised that this book would discuss what had Richard Wrangham. The groundbreaking theory of how fire and food drove the evolution of modern humans Ever since Darwin and The Descent of Man , the evolution and world-wide dispersal of humans has been attributed to our intelligence and adaptability.


Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham

M arriage, said JB Priestley, is a long dull meal with pudding as the first course. This book is a bit like that. The repast culminates in a series of idiosyncratic amuses-bouches, with claims that cooking led to our leaving the trees, to sex roles, to marriage, to emotional restraint, to consciousness, and to society itself which seems unlikely even if Gordon and Barack did bond in a New York kitchen. As in the blessed Nigella's own recipes, Richard Wrangham's ingredients are freshly gathered from an impressive variety of fields. He takes us from the amaranth to the zucchini of gustatory biology.

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