Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, By Richard Wrangham

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The Independent Culture

The custard-coloured book cover is adorned with a sketch of a rather pensive-looking ape, wearing a chef's hat with a cherry-red outline. "Absolutely fascinating", gushes Nigella Lawson in a quote above the ape-in-chef's-hat. Much of this book is devoted to explaining why it is that a beast would not be found cooking.

Many pages have been spent stirring up philosophies of what separates us from our furry friends, and here Richard Wrangham (who is Ruth Moore professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, curator of primate behavioural biology at the Peabody Museum, director of the Kibale chimpanzee project in Uganda, and author of numerous primate-related books), strikes upon the theory of fire.

"The Andamanese believe it is the possession of fire that makes human beings what they are and distinguishes them from animals," he quotes AR Radcliffe-Brown as saying, and goes on to elaborate that it is cooking that has shaped the human brain. No other ape would be found in an apron, seasoning a dish. Wrangham has a taste for sweeping assertions, but the quotes peppering the book make for delectable reading.