A Natural History of Transformation

Pollan, Michael

Book - 2013
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
"In Cooked, Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements--fire, water, air, and earth--to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. In the course of his journey, he discovers that the cook occupies a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture. Both realms are transformed by cooking, and so, in the process, is the cook"--

Publisher: New York : The Penguin Press, 2013
ISBN: 9781594204210
Branch Call Number: 641.5 P
Characteristics: 468 pages ; 25 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Jul 02, 2014

Nice review ksoles. Thanks.

Perhaps he talks about BBQ so much because he has a brother in law in the BBQ business? But that brother in law is Jewish so I don't know why he kept choosing to write about pigs?

I've liked Pollan since reading his Harper's article on opium poppies.

Jul 02, 2014
  • stewstealth rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

A mostly interesting look at the histories and types of ways that humans process foods before consuming them. ( the pre-digestion that allows humans to consume the widest variety ). Well written as always with the authors personality at the fore front. Worth reading, especially if you are a fan of the author.

Jun 16, 2014
  • Persoya rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Fabulous writing, as always. Like Harold McGee, but even more so, Pollan makes the science of food understandable and entertaining.

Dec 18, 2013
  • modis01 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Fun to read! Pollan personally experiments with different forms of cooking and takes us as the readers with him.

Dec 06, 2013
  • MaxineML rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

A great read!

As per usual Michael Pollan is in fine form in this book - Cooked is an indepth look at 4 different cooking techniques, and the science, the history, the health and the spirit behind them.

I enjoyed chapter 1 (Fire) on BBQ-ing, but felt it went on a bit too long. Chapter 2 on braising (cooking with water) was a bit thin on the history and the science, that might be because of the topic or because cooking with water has often been considered a 'female' form of cooking and thus has less official documentation than other forms of cooking. Or it may have just been the idea itself - cooking with water can be easy (boiling a veggie) or complex (a many layered stew) - this was the chapter I felt had the least to say.

Chapter 3 and 4 (baking and fermentation) were really where Pollan shines as a writer.
And if this doesn't get you interested in baking your own bread or trying your hand at making kimchee I don't know what will.

An inspirational book from a wonderful food writer! Highly recommended.

Nov 21, 2013
  • maryannherring rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I am a better cook because I read this book and finally, I have learned how to make bread that is good.

Jul 17, 2013
  • sheojuk rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Not up to Pollan's usual standard. He either needed money, or was under contract to deliver another book. The fact that millions of people are avoiding wheat seems to have eluded him, and the access to ancient grains and many hours to produce exquisite bread are out of reach for almost everyone. The one good section was the last, on fermentation. In ten years, a great deal of healthcare will focus on our intestinal flora, and fermented foods will be recognized for their vital contribution to health. Mostly, this book was a self-indulgent exercise, not too much benefit to the reader.

Jul 13, 2013
  • jeffreyochsner rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This latest book from Michael Pollan is excellent. As usual, he has fascinating information to share, and he writes very well. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in food, cooking, eating, or good health. That should be pretty much everyone! Enjoy!

Jun 11, 2013
  • ksoles rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

"Eat food. Not too much, Mostly plants." This mantra from Michael Pollan's 2008 bestseller, "In Defence of Food" has helped kickstart a modern movement away from the ugly industrial food chain and towards a healthier, more humane and ecologically friendly way of eating. However, in his introduction to the newly released "Cooked," Pollan worries: “It is entirely possible that, within another generation, cooking a meal from scratch will seem as exotic and ambitious – as ‘extreme’ – as most of us today regard brewing beer or baking a loaf of bread or putting up a crock of sauerkraut.” He therefore sets out to explore the power of cooking, loosely defined as transforming raw, undigestible foods into wholesome, delicious ones. He divides "Cooked" into sections on fire, water, air and earth, a theoretically brilliant conceit based on the four classical elements that can transform food. Unfortunately, fire and water can only get so interesting...

The fire section introduces readers to one guy who barbecues whole pigs, and then to another guy who barbecues whole pigs. Pollan learns from the guys how to barbecue whole pigs, then proceeds to barbecue a big piece of pig in the firepit he keeps in his front yard in Berkeley. He dresses up this narration with quotes from and anecdotes about the Marquis de Cussy, Claude Lévi-Strauss and a French philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, who wrote the not-so-scinitillating-sounding "The Psychoanalysis of Fire." Water follows fire in a very tedious chapter devoted to braising and the joys of chopping onions. Eminently skim-able.

"Cooked" does pick up in the second half, where Pollan turns to earth, discussing the bacteria and fungus that turn milk to cheese, grain to beer etc, and to air, explaining how flour and water become bread. Here, we meet “fermentos,” who preach the critical but unappreciated role of bacteria in our diets, a nun who is also a PhD microbiologist and celebrated cheese maker, and a couple of the greatest bread makers in North America. Here, Pollan finally tells fascinating "foodie" stories steeped in chemistry, history and anthropology.

Pollan indeed proves that cooking provides the key to a healthy, sustainable food system but only half succeeds in raising awareness and excitement about getting into the kitchen.

Apr 21, 2013


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add a Notice

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Find it at NYPL


Other Formats

Buy It Now

Support your library, keep it forever!

View Purchase Options Learn more about this program

Your Cart

Hello! We noticed you have the following items in your cart right now:

If you'd still like to purchase the items you have in your cart, you can do that now.

You'll be able to purchase your eBook after you have checked out your current cart.

To continue with your eBook purchase immediately, you can clear your cart by clicking below.

All items will be removed from your cart.

I'd like to keep browsing! I'll decide later.

Explore Further

Browse the Shelf

Subject Headings