For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Read more...
For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Its presence in nature was dismissed as a desperate response to starvation or other life-threatening circumstances, and few spent time studying it. A taboo subject in our culture, the behavior was portrayed mostly through horror movies or tabloids sensationalizing the crimes of real-life flesh-eaters. But the true nature of cannibalism--the role it plays in evolution as well as human history--is even more intriguing (and more normal) than the misconceptions we've come to accept as fact.
In Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, zoologist Bill Schutt sets the record straight, debunking common myths and investigating our new understanding of cannibalism's role in biology, anthropology, and history in the most fascinating account yet written on this complex topic. Schutt takes readers from Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains, where he wades through ponds full of tadpoles devouring their siblings, to the Sierra Nevadas, where he joins researchers who are shedding new light on what happened to the Donner Party--the most infamous episode of cannibalism in American history. He even meets with an expert on the preparation and consumption of human placenta (and, yes, it goes well with Chianti).
Bringing together the latest cutting-edge science, Schutt answers questions such as why some amphibians consume their mother's skin; why certain insects bite the heads off their partners after sex; why, up until the end of the twentieth century, Europeans regularly ate human body parts as medical curatives; and how cannibalism might be linked to the extinction of the Neanderthals. He takes us into the future as well, investigating whether, as climate change causes famine, disease, and overcrowding, we may see more outbreaks of cannibalism in many more species--including our own.
Cannibalism places a perfectly natural occurrence into a vital new context and invites us to explore why it both enthralls and repels us.
- ISBN-13: 9781616204624
- ISBN-10: 1616204621
- Publisher: Algonquin Books
- Publish Date: February 2017
- Page Count: 352
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-10-24
- Reviewer: Staff
In this comprehensive account of a taboo practice, Schutt (Dark Banquet), professor of biology at LIU-Post, finds that cannibalism is more widespread than generally believed and proffers insight as to why different species resort to the practice of cannibalism, with plenty of scientific evidence to support his conclusions. Schutt covers the commonly known cannibalistic practices found among tadpoles, chimpanzees, sand tiger sharks, and polar bears, but the real intrigue is found in his descriptions of lesser-known instances of cannibalism in humans that have been actively struck from history, including during the 1941 siege of Leningrad and the medicinal cannibalism practiced by a range of European and Chinese rulers. Schutt cites starvation, overcrowding, and even global warming as reasons that humans and animals have turned to cannibalism. Depending on the culture, cannibalism has also been practiced as a learned behavior, as filial piety, as a form of luxurious indulgence, as a funerary ritual, and even as a mood stabilizer. With plenty of examples of cannibalism in humans past and present, Schutts well researched and suspenseful work is a must read for anyone whos interested in the topicand can stomach the gore. Illus. by Patricia J. Wynne. Agent: Gillian MacKenzie, Gillian MacKenzie Agency. (Feb.)
The history of the most taboo diet
Let’s face it: We are fascinated by cannibalism, from Hannibal Lecter to the brain-eating zombies in “The Walking Dead.” In Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, zoologist Bill Schutt writes about cannibalism with a delightful mixture of humor and scholarship.
Our horror of cannibalism is so deeply instilled that we assume it is an aberration resulting from extreme conditions such as starvation. Until fairly recently, most zoologists shared that belief. However, research since the 1990s has demonstrated that cannibalism is anything but rare in the animal kingdom. Schutt makes a convincing and frequently hilarious argument that cannibalism is a logical and successful strategy that many animals—especially insects, amphibians and fish, but also birds and mammals—employ in order to ensure the survival of their species.
The book is at its best, however, when discussing human cannibalism. Schutt writes movingly about the tragic Donner Party, one of the most infamous examples of starvation-induced human cannibalism. He also discusses the ongoing debate about whether ritual cannibalism—the consumption of human flesh for liturgical or spiritual reasons—actually exists, or if it is a rumor based on ignorance and fear, as well as an excuse for genocide and exploitation. But the most sobering reading comes when he explores the links between cannibalism and emerging diseases, and the implications for our own future in the face of diminishing resources.
Erudite, amusing and often moving, this is a compelling examination of a serious topic. Be prepared for some pretty curious looks, though—most people aren’t used to hearing bursts of laughter from someone reading a book emblazoned with the title Cannibalism!