Thursday, November 18, 2010
As much as my tastes are congruent with Keith Law, they are not aligned with Michael Ruhlman. I went against my initial feeling and read Medium Raw after Ruhlman said he liked it. I did not. Then, I saw this video of Ruhlman and thought I would check out the book of which he spoke, Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham:
Ruhlman sums up the book really well in this video. But his passion and excitement and the background music make it more exciting than the book actually was. Ruhlman makes his own leap about cooking and society around 2:22 but otherwise, what he says is what Wrangham writes.
The book isn't badly written. Despite being a Harvard anthropologist, the writing is very accessible. It's not like reading a scholarly journal. That being said, I had a hard time getting into it. Anthropology isn't a topic that interests me very much and I maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when we're making conclusions about how people lived thousands and millions of years ago. The remnants of life forms before us only give us some clues and from there, it's all speculation, usually based on some preformed concepts. Wrangham thinks cooking shaped how we evolved as humans. He may be right. He can fit the evidence to make it seem like it is so. And he certainly has the research to back his views. Over a third of the book is endnotes and bibliography. I'm sure there are anthropologists out there, though, that completely disagree with him.
The book certainly is different. My bias against the subject matter prevents the book from getting a star because it is well researched and well written. I just didn't care for it very much.