The best books about the history and future of agriculture, food, and cooking

Guy Crosby Ph.D Author Of Cook, Taste, Learn: How the Evolution of Science Transformed the Art of Cooking
By Guy Crosby Ph.D

Who am I?

Since childhood I've been fascinated with the beauty of organic molecules. I pursued this passion in graduate school at Brown University and through a postdoctoral position at Stanford University. My professional career began at a startup pharmaceutical company in California, which evolved into research positions in agriculture and food ingredients. After 30 years I retired as a vice-president of research and development for a food ingredients company. I developed a passion for food and cooking and subsequently acquired a position as the science editor for America’s Test Kitchen, which I held for over 12 years. Today at the age of 80 I still write and publish scientific papers and books about food, cooking, and nutrition.

I wrote...

Cook, Taste, Learn: How the Evolution of Science Transformed the Art of Cooking

By Guy Crosby Ph.D,

Book cover of Cook, Taste, Learn: How the Evolution of Science Transformed the Art of Cooking

What is my book about?

It’s truly amazing when you think about it—of all the many thousands of species living on earth, only humans cook their food! Professor Richard Wrangham, one of the world’s leading anthropologists, believes that some of our earliest ancestors began using fire to cook food almost 2 million years ago, resulting in bigger brains and an evolutionary advantage over all other species. Cooking provided pleasure, better nutrition and health, safety, and an undeniable effect on social behavior. This startling concept provided the seed for my new book Cook, Taste, Learn: How the Evolution of Science Transformed the Art of Cooking.

Science-driven changes in the way we cook food will reduce the risk of developing a number of chronic diseases and increase the quality of life. 

The books I picked & why

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Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

By Richard Wrangham,

Book cover of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Why this book?

This book was the inspiration for my book and was written by a professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University. It sets out a convincing argument that cooking may have been started by the earliest humans about 2 million years ago, which is far earlier than most anthropologists believe. Much of Wrangham’s arguments are based on his own research that illustrates how cooking provided better nutrition resulting in the expansion of the human brain by 60% over thousands of years giving humans a head-start over all other living species. 

The Ascent of Man

By Jacob Bronowski,

Book cover of The Ascent of Man

Why this book?

A fascinating history about the evolution of human life by a renowned expert in the field. The book focuses on the technological developments that drove the evolution of humans from the very beginning. A beautifully illustrated book. The source of my favorite lines of poetry by William Blake:

“To see a World in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

The Emergence of Agriculture

By Bruce D. Smith,

Book cover of The Emergence of Agriculture

Why this book?

Another beautifully illustrated book that traces the evolution of agriculture in seven different regions of the world starting approximately 10,000 years ago. Many anthropologists believe the evolution of agriculture was the single greatest technological development of all time as it transformed early humans from hunter-gathers to settled societies resulting in an explosion of the human population.

Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition

By Owen Beattie, John Geiger,

Book cover of Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition

Why this book?

An absolutely riveting account of the tragic attempt of Captain John Franklin of England to discover a northwest passage to Asia in 1845-1848. The account is told by a professor of Anthropology who discovered the frozen bodies of three sailors on the expedition that were literally frozen in time when their two ships were ice-bound 138 years ago. The two sunken ships were discovered only recently in 2014. It is now believed that food poisoning from improperly canned food may have been the cause of the tragic fate of the crew of 125 men.

A History of Cooks and Cooking

By Michael Symons,

Book cover of A History of Cooks and Cooking

Why this book?

The book honors James Boswell’s intuition that defines humans as the “cooking animal,” as humans are the only species living on earth that cook their food. It is an interesting account of the world from a cook’s perspective. Symons maintains that to be truly human we need to become better cooks and to think of cooks as “sharers of food.” His account of the history of cooking is especially interesting and well researched

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