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Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

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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 sensationali 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.


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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 sensationali 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.

30 review for Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. Schutt sucks all the fun out of cannibalism, swapping morbid curiosity and sensationalism for stilted prose and heavy-handed science. Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. Schutt sucks all the fun out of cannibalism, swapping morbid curiosity and sensationalism for stilted prose and heavy-handed science.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dan Schwent

    Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is a book about cannibalism. Laced with dark humor, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History covers cannibalism in many in its many forms. Schutt starts with the animal kingdom, noting nutritional and evolutionary advantages to snacking on your own species. Tadpoles do it, insects do it, even the monkeys in the trees do it. The bulk of the book deals with human cannibalism, from the Neanderthal to the present day. There's cannibalism for medicinal reasons, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is a book about cannibalism. Laced with dark humor, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History covers cannibalism in many in its many forms. Schutt starts with the animal kingdom, noting nutritional and evolutionary advantages to snacking on your own species. Tadpoles do it, insects do it, even the monkeys in the trees do it. The bulk of the book deals with human cannibalism, from the Neanderthal to the present day. There's cannibalism for medicinal reasons, like epileptics drinking blood in Victorian times, to powdered mummies being injested, to cannibalism for religious reasons. Religious and cultural views on cannibalism are explored, as is the grand daddy of them all, the Donner Party. Schutt deliberately sidesteps cannibal serial killers since that topic has been sensationalized to death by the media. The modern placenta-eating movement is covered in great detail, as are kuru and similar diseases. The writing in Cannibalism is engaging, tinged with Schutt's dark brand of humor. I devoured the book in two long sittings like a tribesman not wanting his relative's corpse to go to waste as food for maggots. Apart from Bill Bryson, I'm not usually drawn to non-fiction but this book was really hard to put down. If I had to pick out something to bitch about, it would be that kuru and other spongiform encephalopathies were given a little too much space. Apart from that not mentioning the episode of The IT Crowd that was about a cannibal, I have no complaints. I recommend to anyone even remotely interested in cannibalism. Four out of five stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    I know this might be the wrong thing to say but I enjoyed this book, for such a hard topic the author did a very good job of keeping the theme of the narrative fun and light . This is a study about cannibalism as it happens around the world , how cannibalism has used by colonial powers to brand cultures as such and then using that as an excuse to colonize them. It also dwells into the dinner party and it reaches an agreeable conclusion , I do think that this book will enlighten whoever is intere I know this might be the wrong thing to say but I enjoyed this book, for such a hard topic the author did a very good job of keeping the theme of the narrative fun and light . This is a study about cannibalism as it happens around the world , how cannibalism has used by colonial powers to brand cultures as such and then using that as an excuse to colonize them. It also dwells into the dinner party and it reaches an agreeable conclusion , I do think that this book will enlighten whoever is interested in this topic , and I can promise that if you read this book, you'll have a good time and learn something new , maybe it's just the anthropologist in me . :)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I got weird reactions from my co-workers while I was reading this book. I explained that I’m planning to go on a camping trip, so I’m reading some survival guides, starting with this book. Long story short -- I read this book in peace! But really, “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History” is not really a survivor’s manual, get a hold of yourself! The book explores the practice across the animal kingdom, and argues that we can actually learn a lot from observing any species that sometimes eats it I got weird reactions from my co-workers while I was reading this book. I explained that I’m planning to go on a camping trip, so I’m reading some survival guides, starting with this book. Long story short -- I read this book in peace! But really, “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History” is not really a survivor’s manual, get a hold of yourself! The book explores the practice across the animal kingdom, and argues that we can actually learn a lot from observing any species that sometimes eats its own kind -- including our own. The book starts by introducing you to cannibalism in animals (which happens more often than one may think) before moving on to incidents in human history, up into modern times, and then even addresses the taboo associated with cannibalism and where it may stem from. At the very beginning, Bill Schutt tells the reader that he, in no way, is there to sensationalize those who the public may consider the "modern day cannibals" of recent history and refuses to give any attention to murders or serial killers and their acts. I can appreciate that, since I feel like those people, their lives, and their actions are something that are so sensationalized already -- and if that's what you're looking for then you could always find that somewhere else. This book is about cannibalism in nature, in survival situations, and in culture. I thought the animal science and information was fascinating and it made me think a lot about where taboos come from and how our abhorrence for cannibalism may differ greatly with another culture. Schutt’s wry tone is well-suited to this scientific retelling, and I found myself laughing on most occasions, cringing on the rest. Cannibalism has much to teach us about evolution, disease, racism, and even familial sacrifice and love. And it also, surprisingly, makes for delectable reading!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nenia ⚔️ Queen of Villainy ⚔️ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I blame Bill Nye for fostering in me a fascination with all things science (something I think he'd gladly take the credit for). Romance novels might be my one true love, but pop science nonfiction is the other woman, my secret mistress, the one I keep coming back to again and again on the sly. I was trying to talk about why this book is so good, but my friends and family were having none of it. So instead, I'm going to talk to you, my del Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I blame Bill Nye for fostering in me a fascination with all things science (something I think he'd gladly take the credit for). Romance novels might be my one true love, but pop science nonfiction is the other woman, my secret mistress, the one I keep coming back to again and again on the sly. I was trying to talk about why this book is so good, but my friends and family were having none of it. So instead, I'm going to talk to you, my delightful captive audience, and let me just warn you right now that if the thought of reading about people eating other people squicks you out in a major way, you might want to consider hitting the "pause" button and exiting stage left. Don't say I didn't warn you! P.S. In case it weren't obvious, seeing as how this book isn't published yet, I received a copy of this to review honestly from the publisher + Netgalley. CANNIBALISM: A PERFECTLY NATURAL HISTORY is written in the style of Mary Roach. What I mean is that it's a mixed bag of anecdotes, ranging from the scientific to the pop-cultural, with a lot of (interesting) tangents. The author has a wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that keeps rearing its head, but sometimes he'll get too caught up in the subject to be funny, and this variance in tone is a bit jarring. The prologue opens up with some examples of cannibalism that are readily accessible to the public: Hannibal Lecter, and the inspiration behind him: Ed Gein. After a compelling introduction, Schutt launches into cannibalism in the natural world. Birds eating the eggs of other birds. Spiders and praying mantises eating their mates. Tadpoles eating other tadpoles. Sharks eating their fellow baby sharks in utero. Cannibalism is rarer in mammals, but there are examples of it, especially when said animals are overcrowded and over-stressed (think hamsters). Next, he talks about cannibalism in ancient history, like in cave people and dinosaurs. It's more difficult to prove this, because there are so many variables that you can't control for, and I think these chapters were fascinating because they really show how much detective legwork archaeologists have to pull in order to give us science. After this, there are a couple chapters about cannibalism in culture. Pop-culture and mythological cannibalism (Hansel and Gretel, TITUS ANDRONICUS, the Chronos myth, etc.), endo and exocannibalism (for example, eating your family to honor their bodies vs. eating your enemies to gain their strength), medicinal cannibalism (eating body parts or drinking blood for medicinal purposes), placenta eating (Buzzfeed did it), and cannibalism in history. Two historical accounts of cannibalism really stood out to me and that was 1) Queen Isabella issued an edict saying that only New World peoples who were uncivilized and/or cannibals could be enslaved, so Columbus and his men intentionally and wrongfully labeled many island tribes as "cannibals" so they could be enslaved and sold, and 2) George H.W. Bush was the only man in his group to survive being eaten by an isolated, starving group of Japanese men during WWII, in what came to be known as the Chichijima Incident. The last couple chapters were about prion diseases, which I actually knew a lot about because I read this great medical mystery on the subject a few years ago. It's called THE FAMILY THAT COULDN'T SLEEP and it's about Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease, scrapie, kuru, and spongiform encephalitis, and how they are all linked (spoiler alert: cannibalism). Schutt interviews some of the scientists who pioneered this research and some who are continuing to develop it, including one woman who believes that these diseases might be caused by a sneaky virus, and that the malignant proteins are just symptoms to an altogether more sinister cause. If you are interested in science books and have a strong stomach, I heartily recommend that you read CANNIBALISM: A PERFECTLY NATURAL HISTORY. It's a fascinating and balanced look at a taboo subject, and I learned a lot about so many things I am now kind of wishing I hadn't. Read it. I dare you. 3.5 stars.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lukas Anthony

    Absolutely *DEVOURED* this....I'm sorry, sometimes the urge to pun is just too strong.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mario the lone bookwolf

    Natural doesn´t have to be better all the time. Please note that I have put the original German text to the end of this review. Just if you might be interested. Cannibalism is only so controversial in human societies. One would just eat another person in exceptional situations. In a classic plane crash or if, in a post-apocalyptic world, the survival of the family depends on it. When human flesh was part of religious ceremonies, it often included exocannibalism. The inclusion of the power of the en Natural doesn´t have to be better all the time. Please note that I have put the original German text to the end of this review. Just if you might be interested. Cannibalism is only so controversial in human societies. One would just eat another person in exceptional situations. In a classic plane crash or if, in a post-apocalyptic world, the survival of the family depends on it. When human flesh was part of religious ceremonies, it often included exocannibalism. The inclusion of the power of the enemy. The more peaceful variant was the endocannibalism, with which one honored the family members by consuming them. The only form left in the modern world is the ritual eating of placentas. But the positive mentality behind this act is in no relation to the bloody rituals of the past. Although in the depths of unexplored rainforests, there may probably be one or the other tribe. In other forms of life than humans, it is common practice and a fixed component of the life cycle. When, for example, cannibalism is integrated into reproduction, rearing or nutrition as an element of preservation of the species. When it comes to preserving the species, sentimentality is out of place in the animal kingdom. In particular, if, for example in the case of insects, the life expectancy of males is not long anyway. Economically speaking, after fulfilling their primary task, they have the most significant benefit as available kilocalories. Even after the act of reproduction, cannibalism continues in the womb in various ways. Shark species in which it is usual that the inhabitants eat each other. Children snacking their mother's skin. And parents one would have better never met because they make no difference between food and own children. Therefore, it is well advised not to build a relationship with them. But if one of the few available sources of essential nutrients is your own kind and family, you can not be picky. A long-term study with different species would be fascinating. By this, one could see under what conditions species develop cannibalism. Similar species do not always start eating each other under similar circumstances. Therefore, there must be an unknown factor in the game. In lab environments with changing climatic and nutritional conditions, one could see clearly when the transition occurs. Although besides not yet found genetic factors could play a role too. The medical applications testify to the curious history of healing and medicine. There is a bigoted difference between a medical prescription for differently prepared parts and proper cannibalism. Of course, with such spectacular remedies, a reputation and good money can be made. The psyche eats too and heals better with exclusive nutrition. Since cannibalism is less common in humans, no microorganism has yet specialized in this mode of spreading. Although such cases have already occurred in indigenous peoples (Kuru). What raises a borderline hypothesis: A pathogen wants to spread in a fictive population, which has practiced cannibalism for centuries. What could be more effective than to strengthen the craving for human flesh in the minds of already infected people? Not to mention direct distribution channels. Following the same principle as mushrooms manipulating and killing insects. Respectively, it may be possible that such a virus might have developed in any of the jungles or has been manufactured by humans. If one interprets it exaggeratedly, many processes in the smallest are based on miscellaneous variants of cannibalism. Somatic cells, microorganisms, symbionts, pathogens,… have a wide range of capabilities for assimilation, control and digestive functions. A vast country, yet to be explored. The short span of time, which can often stand between haute cuisine and cannibalism, is barely aware. Not even weeks, only days would be enough. One does not associate the reports of humanitarian catastrophes with it and the reporting is silent about it. But what would each individual himself, faced with the choice, do? How quickly would the thin and fragile varnish of sophisticated behavior be wiped away by archaic survival instincts? Natürlich muss nicht immer besser sein. Ah, Kannibalismus, das nur bei Menschen so kontroverse Thema. Man würde nur in Ausnahmesituationen einen anderen Menschen essen. Beim klassischen Flugzeugabsturz oder wenn in einer postapokalyptischen Welt das Überleben der Familie davon abhängig ist. Wenn Menschenfleisch Teil von religiösen Zeremonien war, beinhaltete das häufig Exokannibalismus. Die Aufnahme der Kraft des Feindes. Die friedlichere Variante war der Endokannibalismus, mit dem man die Familiemitglieder durch deren Verzehr ehrte. Die einzige in der modernen Welt verbliebene Form ist das verbreitete Essen von Plazentas. Wobei die positive Mentalität hinter diesem Akt in keiner Relation zu den blutigen Ritualen der Vergangenheit steht. Obwohl es in den tiefen der unerforschten Regenwälder sicher noch den einen oder anderen Stamm geben dürfte. Bei anderen Lebensformen als dem Menschen ist es gang und gäbe und fixer Bestandteil des Lebenszyklus. Wenn Kannibalismus etwa als Element des Arterhalts in Fortpflanzung, Aufzucht oder Ernährungsweise integriert wird. Wenn es um den Arterhalt geht, ist im Tierreich Sentimentalität fehl am Platz. Insbesondere, wenn etwa im Insektenreich die Lebenserwartung der Männchen ohnehin nicht lange ist. Ökonomisch gesprochen haben sie nach Erfüllung ihrer Hauptaufgabe den größten Nutzen als verfügbare Kilokalorien. Auch nach der Fortpflanzung geht der Kannibalismus im Mutterleib auf verschiedene Arten weiter. Haiarten, bei denen sich die Umgeborenen gegenseitig auffressen. Kinder, die an der Mutter snacken. Und Eltern, von denen man sich wünscht, dass man sie nie getroffen hätte. Weil sie keinen Unterschied zwischen Futter und eigenen Kindern machen. Daher sind diese gut beraten, keine Beziehung zu ihnen aufzubauen. Wenn eine der wenigen verfügbaren Quellen für essentielle Nährstoffe die eigene Art oder die eigene Verwandschaft ist, darf man nicht wählerisch sein. Wirklich interessant wäre eine Studie mit verschiedenen Tierarten. Daran könnte man sehen, unter welchen Bedingungen Arten Kannibalismus entwickeln. Ähnliche Arten beginnen unter ähnlichen Bedingungen nicht immer, sich gegenseitig aufzufressen. Daher muss noch ein unbekannter Faktor im Spiel sein. In Laborumgebungen mit wechselnden Klima- und Ernährungsbedingungen könnte man anschaulich sehen, wann der Übergang erfolgt. Obwohl zusätzlich noch nicht gefundene genetische Faktoren auch eine Rolle spielen könnten. Die medizinischen Anwendungen zeugen von der kuriosen Geschichte der Heilkunst. Wobei bigotterweise ein Unterschied zwischen ärztlicher Verordnung für verschieden zubereitete Teile und richtigem Kannibalismus besteht. Natürlich ist mit derart spektakulären Heilmitteln auch immer ein Renommee und gutes Geld zu machen. Die Psyche isst und heilt mit. Da Kannibalismus bei Menschen nicht so verbreitet ist, hat sich noch kein Mikroorganismus auf diese Art der Verbreitung spezialisieren können. Obwohl bei indigenen Völkern (Kuru) bereits derartige Fälle aufgetreten sind. Was ein grenzwertige Hypothese aufwirft: Ein Erreger will sich in einem fiktiven, seit Jahrhunderten auf Kannibalismus spezialisierten Volk stärker ausbreiten. Was läge näher, als das Bedürfnis nach Menschenfleisch in den Köpfen der bereits infizierten Menschen zu stärken? Von direkten Verbreitungswegen ganz zu schweigen. Nach dem gleichen Prinzip, wie Pilze Insekten manipulieren. Beziehungsweise, könnte sich so ein Virus nicht etwaig in einem der Dschungel bereits entwickelt haben oder von Menschen hergestellt? Wenn man es etwas übertrieben auslegt, fußen auch viele Prozesse im kleinsten auf diversen Varianten von Kannibalismus. Körperzellen, Mikroorganismen, Symbionten, Krankheitserreger haben ein breites Spektrum an Fähigkeiten für Assimilation, Kontrolle und Verdauung. Ein noch zu erschließendes, weites Land. Die kurze Zeitspanne, die oft zwischen Haute Cuisine und Kannibalismus stehen kann, ist kaum bewusst. Nicht einmal Wochen, nur Tage würden ausreichen. Man assoziiert die Berichte über humanitäre Katastrophen nicht damit und die Berichterstattung schweigt sich darüber aus. Aber was würde jeder einzelne selbst, vor die Wahl gestellt, tun?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)

    This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books. I don't read a lot of non-fiction books but for some reason as soon as I saw this book I knew I wanted to read it. I love learning about anything medical or science related so it was as surprising of a choice as you might think. I have always said that I read a little bit of everything and this book is proof positive of that fact. Cannibalism is a really interesting subject and I learned a lot while listening to this book. It was rea This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books. I don't read a lot of non-fiction books but for some reason as soon as I saw this book I knew I wanted to read it. I love learning about anything medical or science related so it was as surprising of a choice as you might think. I have always said that I read a little bit of everything and this book is proof positive of that fact. Cannibalism is a really interesting subject and I learned a lot while listening to this book. It was really an enjoyable experience. I have to admit that as soon as I saw this book, I started thinking about criminals who practice cannibalism. If you are looking for a book that chronicles the actions of serial killers, this probably isn't the book for you. There is a little bit of those kind of stories in this book but very few. The author actually makes a point to explain why he chose not to focus on criminals. This book instead deals with many other topics pertaining to cannibalism. If you are interested in learning about cannibalism in nature, look no further because this book is full of that kind of information. This books covers cannibalism in fish, birds, tadpoles, insects, and spiders. It discusses why it might be advantageous for animals to cannibalize others creatures of their own species sometimes including their own offspring. I can honestly say that I learned more about cannibalism in nature than I even knew that I wanted to know. I really enjoyed the sections of the book that involved human cannibalism. The very few sections that did discuss criminal cannibalism were very interesting. At the very beginning of the book, I learned that the book Psycho is based off a true story of a man that killed and cannibalized his victims. Survival cannibalism was another very interesting topic. I had never heard of the Donner party prior to listening to this book but I was captivated and saddened by their story. There is a section that discusses the eating of one's placenta, not something that I ever gave any thought to before this book but interesting nonetheless. I thought that Tom Perkins was the perfect narrator for this book. It almost felt as if I were listening to a nature show on television. His voice is exactly the kind of voice I think of when imagining the voice over sections in any nature program. This book had a lot of details and was full of information but I never tired of listening to it largely because of the narrator's skill. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic. It is a heavy subject but it is delivered in a very readable manner. There are a lot of details but it is presented in an entertaining manner. I was entertained and learned a few things. This is the first book by Bill Shutt that I have read but I would consider his work in the furture. I received a review copy of this book from HighBridge Audio via Audiobook Jukebox. Initial Thoughts This was an interesting book. I learned quite a few things and was entertained. There were some sections that were a bit too detailed for my tastes but overall this was a good listen. I am ready for a cannibalism category in the next trivia night I attend!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Gail

    Life lesson: most of your coworkers won't want to discuss the cannibalism habits of tadpoles or the progression of prion diseases. They will look at you strangely. Well well well. This was a fun little bit of science! Author Bill Schutt did a great job of combining scientific evidence, speculation, history, and humor. He also does a good job of touching on a broad range of cannibalism topics, such as prion diseases, placenta eating, natural (and unnatural) cannibalism in nature, filial piety, med Life lesson: most of your coworkers won't want to discuss the cannibalism habits of tadpoles or the progression of prion diseases. They will look at you strangely. Well well well. This was a fun little bit of science! Author Bill Schutt did a great job of combining scientific evidence, speculation, history, and humor. He also does a good job of touching on a broad range of cannibalism topics, such as prion diseases, placenta eating, natural (and unnatural) cannibalism in nature, filial piety, medicinal cannibalism, and historical records of cannibalism (as well as the cultural & racial bias involved.) The writing is balanced and fun, while avoiding being sensational, choosing to steer away from criminal cannibal cases in favor of the more interesting, less discussed aspects of people eating. It does a great job of being gross, funny, and knowledgeable! Surprisingly, the clerk at a local liquor store had no idea what wine would go well with placenta. I went with an Italian red. So what will you learn from Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History? *Placenta tastes like chicken gizzards *Banana slugs are fucking disgusting. (view spoiler)[ An even more cringeworthy behavior is exhibited by banana slugs (genus Ariolimax), which become so entwined during sex that they sometimes chew off their partner’s corkscrew-shaped penis in an effort to disengage. During this process, which is known as apophallation, penises are slurped down spaghetti-style, occasionally by their owners. (hide spoiler)] *Christopher Columbus was a top shelf dick burger - but you probably already knew that one. *Most people will not be pleased when you start a sentence with "Random cannibal fact!" *Spiders don't have penises *If you had epilepsy way back when in the 1800s, you might have been told to drink a cup of blood or eat some powdered skull. *Soylent Green is people! Bill Schutt's Cannibalism makes for a fascinating read. Take a little bit of Mary Roach (not literally, you sick freaks,) a little bit of Greek myths and The Walking Dead, some Bill Nye (again, please not literally,) and top it off with a few man eating spiders - mix it all together and you've got yourself a hell of a book!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tudor Vlad

    This was fun. I know, a book about cannibalism, how fun could that be? There are times when the book is dry and there were moments when I trudged through pages and pages of information. Still, for the most time the author manages to infuse this, at times, creepy subject with enough humor to make it easier to go through records of people eating their dead relatives, mothers eating their placenta and lots of other things that made me lose my appetite. Warning: do not read this before or after a me This was fun. I know, a book about cannibalism, how fun could that be? There are times when the book is dry and there were moments when I trudged through pages and pages of information. Still, for the most time the author manages to infuse this, at times, creepy subject with enough humor to make it easier to go through records of people eating their dead relatives, mothers eating their placenta and lots of other things that made me lose my appetite. Warning: do not read this before or after a meal. Just a friendly warning. I’m probably making this seem worse than it was. Just a very very tiny portion of this book goes into the details of human cannibalism, most part of the books looks at cannibalism from a historical, social, psychological and scientific standpoint. It’s not just about human cannibalism, the first part of this books focuses on the presence of cannibalism in the animal kingdom while also presenting an interesting fact: that that the most famous villains in fiction are cannibals (hmm). In the last chapters it also goes into the territory of progressive neurodegenerative conditions that are caused by cannibalism, like the mad cow disease and the infamous Kuru. I can thank Reddit for first informing me of how scary prions are, and this book for further cementing my fear of prion diseases. Kudos to the author for presenting a thorough study of cannibalism without sensationalizing the subject. There are lots of cases of cannibals, alive or dead, that he chose not to talk about out of respect for their families and I’m glad he did that. There’s a lot of that online and free for people that enjoy those sorts of things.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nick Pageant

    I know I'm not likely to convince anyone to read this but for a few special souls (I'm looking at you, Kelly). Still, this is a fun book. The author has a very light touch, lending humor to the gruesome business. I learned lots of useless trivia (that's why we all read so much, right?) and I'll never turn my back on a tadpole again. They are ruthless little bastards.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie Ford

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This has been an enormously entertaining read, with surprising laugh out loud moments from an author who is obviously passionate about the subject matter. This isn't an account of murdering cannibals, in fact they barely warrant a mention due to the authors wish not to offend still living relatives of the victims or perpetrators. Instead the first half of the book covers instances of cannibalism the animal kingdom which is where some of the best passages appear - I draw your attention to sexy sna This has been an enormously entertaining read, with surprising laugh out loud moments from an author who is obviously passionate about the subject matter. This isn't an account of murdering cannibals, in fact they barely warrant a mention due to the authors wish not to offend still living relatives of the victims or perpetrators. Instead the first half of the book covers instances of cannibalism the animal kingdom which is where some of the best passages appear - I draw your attention to sexy snails.... 'Although snail sex can last for up to six hours in some herbivorous species this is definitely not the case in certain carnivorous gastropods, where foreplay can turn into cannibalism in the blink of a turreted eye. In these species, since even copulating individuals will bite their mates, each potential partner is also a potential predator. As a result, they often employ the wham-bam-scram approach during sexual encounters, which sometimes linger on for as long as six seconds!' The second two thirds of the book focus on human cannibalism, specifically in terms of early colonisation rumours spread by Columbus in the Caribbean, ritual cannibalism, cannibalism in the Bible, survival cannibalism, medicinal cannibalism (the placental eating chapter is not recommended before dinner), origins of BSE and even a look ahead to a possible apocalyptic future where overpopulation and low food production is solved with dietary supplements from the funeral business. All in all, a fascinating, entertaining and thought-provoking read. P.S. Did you know that George H. W. Bush was the only survivor the Ogasawara Incident which saw his compatriots livers eaten by the starving Japanese officers that captured them?!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    I read some excellent books in February, but nothing made me as gleefully happy as this book did. Lest you think I am an aspiring cannibal, it’s important to know that this is not a gruesome, sensational retelling of cannibalism among modern serial killers; Schutt respectfully stays away from that in favor of exploring the history of cannibalism from a biological and anthropological viewpoint. So no Jeffrey Dahmer, and plenty of spiders sacrificing themselves up to their young and slugs getting I read some excellent books in February, but nothing made me as gleefully happy as this book did. Lest you think I am an aspiring cannibal, it’s important to know that this is not a gruesome, sensational retelling of cannibalism among modern serial killers; Schutt respectfully stays away from that in favor of exploring the history of cannibalism from a biological and anthropological viewpoint. So no Jeffrey Dahmer, and plenty of spiders sacrificing themselves up to their young and slugs getting so tangled up in reproduction they have to chew their genitals off to escape! It’s a fun, entertaining read, and Bill Schutt’s insatiable curiosity for his subject is infectious (although I don’t think I’ll be eating placenta like he did). If you’re a fan of Mary Roach, you’ll definitely want to check this out. — Gina Nicoll from The Best Books We Read In February 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/28/riot-r...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    Away for the weekend for my husband's work, we went out for a group dinner last night not long after I finished reading Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, and as one does, I steered the conversation around to the topic of cannibalism – even as we nibbled our artisanal pizzas – and I held the group in thrall with a couple of the anecdotes I had gleaned from this book. We returned to the hotel and someone suggested we play the game Table Talk. The first question was, “If you were cremated, Away for the weekend for my husband's work, we went out for a group dinner last night not long after I finished reading Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, and as one does, I steered the conversation around to the topic of cannibalism – even as we nibbled our artisanal pizzas – and I held the group in thrall with a couple of the anecdotes I had gleaned from this book. We returned to the hotel and someone suggested we play the game Table Talk. The first question was, “If you were cremated, what would you want done with your ashes?” and I was the first to reply with, “I'd want to be snorted by Keith Richards”, getting a huge laugh. Thanks Bill Schutt: this may not have been the most valuable pop science book I've ever read, but I learned just enough to add to my social capital. Bill Schutt is a zoologist (Biology Professor at LIU Post and researcher at the Museum of Natural History), so when he decided to investigate the history and prevalence of human cannibalism, he started by looking at the animal world; arguing that what's natural in the wild must be natural for us, too. He approached the topic thinking that cannibalism is rare in nature (it's not), and was surprised to find that those famous animal cannibals (from Black Widow Spiders and Praying Mantises to the Global Warming-affected Polar Bears who are seen eating their own cubs) have actually been misunderstood. What I found most interesting in the animal sections are the variety of ways in which different species have evolved to become cannibals (from spadefoot toad tadpoles, some percentage of which will have carnivorous teeth and guts to munch on their omnivorous siblings, to the African caecilian, the brooding mother of which will rapidly regrow her epidermis for its young to peel and eat “like a grape”), and while I found these stories to be fascinating, they rather undermine Schutt's initial point: since humans haven't evolved any cannibal-specific features, it's hard to compare what's “natural” (beyond making the point that just about any animals, when overcrowded and starved, will resort to eating each other). When Schutt turns to humans, he discusses the first allusions to cannibalism in Western writing (which is there right from the start in Homer and Herodotus; which was especially interesting to me as the last book I read included the myth of Thyestes being tricked into eating his own sons), and through Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm, right up to Cormac McCarthy and The Walking Dead, we in the West have always thought of cannibalism as particularly unnatural (reinforced by the Judeo-Christian belief in keeping the body whole for the Resurrection). This paved the way for Christopher Columbus to justify enslaving the Caribbean people he encountered after misinterpreting (or lying about) their funerary rites; and this set the tone for all of European colonisation. Contrasted with this is thousands of years of Chinese writings in which cannibalism has been seen as acceptable: necessary in times of war and famine; an epicurean curiosity; a matter of filial duty in which people have always been happy to cut off pieces of themselves to feed their elders. What's ironic is the West's long history of using human body parts as medicine (from drinking the blood of a hanged man to ingesting ground up mummy dust) and not considering this cannibalism. Schutt examines the famous stories of human cannibalism – Was it really that prevalent in the South Pacific? What really happened with the Donner Party or the Siege of Leningrad? Why is it becoming trendy for women to eat their placentas after giving birth? – and ends with a very long section on the similarities between kuru and Mad Cow Disease, and while I didn't find this part that interesting, I was surprised to learn that the science behind these diseases hasn't been settled (apparently, it was never about prions). Ultimately, Schutt concludes that we're heading towards a Soylent Green future. So, that's the what, and as for the how: Schutt attempts a jokey-accessible tone (like Mary Roach or Sarah Vowell), and I don't know if he really pulls it off. An early example of the jokes, while discussing that spadefoot toad tadpole: It was evident that the jaw muscles were significantly enlarged in the cannibals, especially the jaw-closing levator madibulae, whose bulging appearance reminded me of a kid with six pieces of Dubble Bubble jammed into each cheek (a dangerous behavior I only rarely attempt anymore). Is that lame joke worth the change in tone? I also didn't really like the way that Schutt mocks some interview subjects on the page. While talking with Dr. William Arens – an Anthropologist who made a stir in the 70s by declaring that all stories of “social” cannibalism in “primitive societies” are inventions of Western researchers – Schutt writes that he's listening politely to the man while thinking, “Yeah right”. Schutt does the same thing throughout the chapter about the woman who promotes placenta-eating – first underlining the hilarity of her having ten kids, and then mentally correctly her as she shares with him what she understands to be the scientific benefits of placenta-eating (can you believe she thought the main research was done on mice when they used rats?) Ultimately, this is what I learned: Cannibalism is pretty common in nature, and under starvation conditions, it's something we're probably all capable of. Also, social cannibalism, as part of funerary rites, was likely less common than believed, but other than the risk of kuru or other transmissible diseases (one of which may have wiped out the Neanderthals), it is no more “unnatural” than the dozens of other ways in which humans have respectfully ushered their loved ones into the afterlife. In the end, this book was perfect preparation for a dinner party conversation, but beyond George H. W. Bush's brush with the butcher block and Keith Richards' sendoff to his father, not much will likely linger with me.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    So, just to deter any possible squeamish readers: Schutt eats placenta, prepared a la osso bucco, in this book. I kinda-sorta-maybe-wanna eat placenta right now, just to see how it tastes. Is that gross? Probably. But I'm just curious - and as we all know, curiosity killed the cat. This time it might kill the cat through the form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. If I go, I might as well go from something that has a long, cool, science-y sounding name. What you'll find in this book: fa So, just to deter any possible squeamish readers: Schutt eats placenta, prepared a la osso bucco, in this book. I kinda-sorta-maybe-wanna eat placenta right now, just to see how it tastes. Is that gross? Probably. But I'm just curious - and as we all know, curiosity killed the cat. This time it might kill the cat through the form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. If I go, I might as well go from something that has a long, cool, science-y sounding name. What you'll find in this book: fascinating etymologies of words such as "mummy", the fact that Francis Bacon and a score of other scientists used to practice medical cannibalism, an explanation for why-the-fuck are humans called "the long pigs", a terrifying look at the idea of the prion and an all around super-god-damn-interesting book about one of the behaviours that, here in the West, we have considered taboo since the beginning of time... Wait, what was that? Not since the beginning of time? Since about the 16 hundreds? Oh. Yeah, you spelled West wrong: it should have been "hypocrites". For the record: cannibalism is not "inhumane". There is no such thing as "inhumane", unless you specifically refer to something not of the humans or you use it metaphorically. If it has been done by humans, then it exists on the human spectrum of behaviour. There's instances in which I don't consider it morally wrong: starvation (survival), and if it is included in the social practices of a certain culture (like the Fore people). The fact that I haven't been raised on human meat is based solely on chance or luck. I consider it morally wrong if: it is done in the same vein as/along with murder, torture: then you are talking about intent to destroy, and it usually stems from psychological aberrations such as violent psychopathy or other mental illnesses (for example related to hallucinations).

  16. 4 out of 5

    The Behrg

    I'm not sure if reading a non-fiction novel about Cannibalism says more about the READER than it does the AUTHOR, but I found this a disturbingly fascinating read. Running the gamut from insects to the animal world to dinosaurs and neanderthals, the book then jumps to more modern cases from the Donner party to survival cannibalism to placentophagy. The research and science behind zoologist Bill Schutt's study is impressive, if at times overwhelming. I definitely identified more with the human as I'm not sure if reading a non-fiction novel about Cannibalism says more about the READER than it does the AUTHOR, but I found this a disturbingly fascinating read. Running the gamut from insects to the animal world to dinosaurs and neanderthals, the book then jumps to more modern cases from the Donner party to survival cannibalism to placentophagy. The research and science behind zoologist Bill Schutt's study is impressive, if at times overwhelming. I definitely identified more with the human aspects of this "study in history," and there were both some mind-opening ideas and criminally tragic insights into humanity. I appreciate Schutt's decision to not include any recent sensationalized media cases where family's of victims (or culprits) might be unintentionally affected. This a novel that changes you. It's impossible to look at the world the same way after diving into the depths of such a bizarre yet potentially natural practice. For all my disturbed like-minded individuals, this is one you should definitely check out. ** Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book for review purposes. This in no way affected my review. **

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Bunting

    Utterly fascinating piece of non-fiction that is easy-to-follow, accessible, and snarky. I do think it lost focus at the 11th hour when it discussed Mad Cow Disease (which I totally missed the connective tissue *pun intended* of how he got there). Still, it was haunting and chilling but totally gave compelling reasons for why some societies turned to cannibalism and discussed how it became taboo. You start asking yourself, "Would I eat someone if I were hungry enough?" I mean, I do get HANGRY bu Utterly fascinating piece of non-fiction that is easy-to-follow, accessible, and snarky. I do think it lost focus at the 11th hour when it discussed Mad Cow Disease (which I totally missed the connective tissue *pun intended* of how he got there). Still, it was haunting and chilling but totally gave compelling reasons for why some societies turned to cannibalism and discussed how it became taboo. You start asking yourself, "Would I eat someone if I were hungry enough?" I mean, I do get HANGRY but I don't know if I could do it. I don't want to know, thank you. The book builds from the cannibalism I'm least interested in (bugs) to the shit that I peak around corners at so smart move, Bill. Still the bug chapters were REALLY interesting which shocked the hell out of me because I am not a science person. Still Schutt drives the point home in the epilogue where he makes a case that cannibalism could happen in the near future in drought and famine-ridden areas and I was like, "Bill, SHUT YOUR MOUTH."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Olive

    See my review on my booktube channel: https://youtu.be/zjgJWtWW0qY See my review on my booktube channel: https://youtu.be/zjgJWtWW0qY

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Hmmmm! What to say about this non-fiction read that I thought would be more "scientific" than it was? Closer to a 2.5 star for me? Yes, but then I rounded it up for the first half. Because those sections hold chapters of information in the kind of microscopic and observable detail of physicality "eyes" that I anticipated the entire volume would have. But didn't. Those form chapters of classified invertebrates and the precise definition of the various categories of cannibalism were all 4 or 5. As Hmmmm! What to say about this non-fiction read that I thought would be more "scientific" than it was? Closer to a 2.5 star for me? Yes, but then I rounded it up for the first half. Because those sections hold chapters of information in the kind of microscopic and observable detail of physicality "eyes" that I anticipated the entire volume would have. But didn't. Those form chapters of classified invertebrates and the precise definition of the various categories of cannibalism were all 4 or 5. As were the toad species tadpoles and the other amphibian inclusions. He tries to be funny. A few times he seems instead flippant. That's forgiven, considering the subject. But I didn't find the over all tone of instruction to what was happening in nature or the past or the historical aspects to be one that was predominantly accurate. There are all kinds of assumptions that I would never include in a book that seems to be categorized as "natural history" on its cover. Theory for some far past sections (dinosaur and Neanderthal ones especially) were actually more misleading in theories than in science based information. Here's the deal. And I do repeat myself, I know. The more a non-fiction book STAYS on the topic of the title and focuses on a narrow band of information in detail and record, the better it becomes. Here he wanders into immense historical tangent and entire past era 10 or 12 page "other" information. Not at all focused on the practice of the title except to a minute portion of a supposition upon the "possibility" and a history interpretation, for the most part, that has little or nothing to do with the topic subject except in a far tangent sense. As if you had to teach the entire alphabet to your child, ever time you read a chapter of their bedtime story book to them. And what he chooses to pick for the "instruction" tangent? Well, it's more about his own soapbox or two than it is anything at all in strictures or patterns of cannibal practice described. What did I learn? Only the size differential and special parts adaptions of certain broods coming from the same batch of fertilization. And a couple other minor bird and fossilized feces study facts. The second half of the book was a 2 at the most. This is not hard science and it is mostly taught theory or entire tracts of guessing suppositions. But what proof and evidence in it was interesting to me. Because I try to keep up with the anthropology and forensics literature, studies, further interpreted copy upon the homo species especially- this reciting all the half accurate "past" proofs or finds recited histories was not a fit for me. Sometimes he spent pages and pages to "teach" what is theory and not at all proven but which he has swallowed whole piece himself. And the definitions are also murky in those chapters too. No more so than in his era categories and homo species crossover information that he tells "as assumed" truth. All homo category populations do and have practiced cannibalism under dire circumstances. And earlier homo species and modern man in tribal conflicts have almost all done so as well. He makes it sounds an exception when it never was. The section on prion diseases, I also found questionable to completely "true". Kuru disease is the one attached to cannibal practices and as a group those diseases are not as simplistic (or as related to eating brains either) as he makes it out to be. Not a fan of any non-fiction that has a narrow focus in the title, and then doesn't stay on that focus. He also tried to entertain in a kind of garish dark humor that often fell awkwardly. But the first half had some nifty drawings and proofs for nature in how it has evolved to have the best offspring survive bad situations (like a quickly drying puddle).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tyler J Gray

    4.25 My brain feels like it's going to explode with all the knowledge i've packed into it from reading this book so quickly. Accessible, well written, avoids being sensational. A lot of interesting history. Maybe i'll write a better review one day, maybe not, but I am very glad to have read this book and definitely recommend it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    After finals and the mental slog of having finished my first year of law school, I needed something light, fun, and airy. Enter cannibalism. I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me relax like eating people. (I am a Soylent convert, after all). Fascinating, original, comprehensive, and refreshing, this is a very well-done book. The beginning runs a little slower- it’s a little hard to get excited about tadpoles and tiny water flea things, I know- but it sets the mental and evolutionary gro After finals and the mental slog of having finished my first year of law school, I needed something light, fun, and airy. Enter cannibalism. I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me relax like eating people. (I am a Soylent convert, after all). Fascinating, original, comprehensive, and refreshing, this is a very well-done book. The beginning runs a little slower- it’s a little hard to get excited about tadpoles and tiny water flea things, I know- but it sets the mental and evolutionary groundwork for the more interesting human parts later, so read it. Also, it’s actually interesting after you set your mind to it. Overall, just a very clever, intriguing history. Must-read for any aspiring cannibal.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    By turns hilarious and horrific, this book will have you quoting curious facts at people like a ghoulish child given The Bumper Book Of Cannibal Facts by an imprudent aunt. And if those people don't edge away from you, you know the right people. Consider curious amphibian order the caecilians, some of whom lay eggs and some birth live young, but all of whom consume non-lethal quantities of their mothers in early life. Or that eating the placenta is thoroughly ubiquitous among those mammals who h By turns hilarious and horrific, this book will have you quoting curious facts at people like a ghoulish child given The Bumper Book Of Cannibal Facts by an imprudent aunt. And if those people don't edge away from you, you know the right people. Consider curious amphibian order the caecilians, some of whom lay eggs and some birth live young, but all of whom consume non-lethal quantities of their mothers in early life. Or that eating the placenta is thoroughly ubiquitous among those mammals who have them - except for humans, and camelids. True, certain hippyish fractions of the middle-class are trying to upend that exception (though presumably not because they want to differentiate themselves from alpacas), which obviously gives Schutt an excuse to put his mouth where his money is and chow down. How does it taste? Well, I can't give everything away here, can I? Broadly speaking, the book's divided in two, covering animal cannibalism first before moving on to people - though of course the BSE scandal, with which Schutt concludes at a little too much length, ultimately bridges both via the kuru links. But many themes recur throughout - most notably the widespread Western repulsion at the very notion, which has manifested both in a lack of proper research into the topic until quite recently, and in using cannibal panics as a convenient shield for the expropriation of everyone from mediaeval Jews to indigenous populations. Indeed, it even manages to twist back on itself in the latter-day notion that there have never been societies where cannibalism was standard and it has always been a calumny - a claim which at once ignores vast swathes of evidence, and demonstrates exactly the same hegemonising notion of universal moral norms which it affects to oppose. There are some quite affecting and emotionally plausible quotes here from members of tribes in Brazil and New Guinea who are as appalled by the notion of putting dead loved ones in the damp, unwelcoming earth or leaving them for the maggots and worms as we'd be by serving them up at the wake. And even away from the wild places of the Earth there's a fascinating chapter on China, where the Western taboo has never had the same hold even before you consider how many apocalyptic famines that land has seen; there, cannibalism as an act of filial piety has a long and surprising history which mirrors the tendency among some fish to eat a few of the kids (because, after all, they have plenty left) or indeed all of them (especially if there aren't many left because, after all, at that point they're probably not going to make it anyway). And this sense of correspondences is something else which recurs throughout, though Schutt never fully interrogates it. It's suggested that those peculiar snails which fire love darts at their intendeds may have inspired the notion of Cupid's arrows - but given how inept the ancients could be at observing nature even on a much larger scale, is that really likely? In many ways it would be more plausible to suggest (as per that wonderful line about birth metaphors in Carey's Lucifer) that Cupid is the reality for which these snails are the metaphor. Or simply that the human mind is powerfully adapted to find echoes and parallels all over the shop. Amongst many surprising chapters, perhaps the most startling is the one on cannibalistic medicine - in which we learn how cures such as mummy powder and skull moss persisted in the West until a lot later than you'd think, even while eating the dead in a non-medical sense was being used as a convenient excuse for annihilating the barbarous Caribs et al. The black comedy is only amplified when it turns out that the idea of mummy powder as a curative in the first place probably stemmed from a translation error. Oops. However, despite his frequent and very fair jabs at unscientific fits of morality, and despite opening with a Hannibal Lecter quote and a section on Ed Gein, Schutt later falls prey to the former and neglects the likes of the latter two, mostly dodging the topic of cannibal serial or spree killers. He claims rather flimsily that this is out of sensitivity to the victims and not wanting to glorify "psychopaths" already amply covered elsewhere. Which is uncharacteristically feeble, not least in lumping the scrupulously consensual cannibal Armin Meiwes in with the genuinely evil. And what about Sawney Bean? Surely his victims' families are all safely under the sod now, and I'd consider him the joint most notorious historical cannibal with the Donner party, who are covered in a fair amount of detail. Still, that fumble aside this is a great read. (Refused on Netgalley, got a physical review copy instead. Go me)

  23. 5 out of 5

    R K

    Want to make people look twice? Read this book daringly in public. You're guaranteed to get head's turning. What can I say about this book? It's exactly what it says it is, the history of cannibalism. Bill Schutt takes a scientific and culture approach to this so taboo topic. We first warm ourselves by seeing how nature views this "taboo" only to learn that nature could care less. In the world of eat or be eaten, you use everything you can to survive, even if that mean you eat your own undevelope Want to make people look twice? Read this book daringly in public. You're guaranteed to get head's turning. What can I say about this book? It's exactly what it says it is, the history of cannibalism. Bill Schutt takes a scientific and culture approach to this so taboo topic. We first warm ourselves by seeing how nature views this "taboo" only to learn that nature could care less. In the world of eat or be eaten, you use everything you can to survive, even if that mean you eat your own undeveloped siblings. Schutt goes to show in nature how creatures have evolved to best survive and feed, even if that mean they must resort to eating their own species. He also brings up interesting dinner table conversations such as: If a species resorts to cannibalism as a means to survive, is it still taboo? What if the victim doesn't die but has evolved a tougher skin that its offspring eats in order to grow? In this case, no one dies nor is unwilling. Is it still wrong, especially if growth rate and thus, survival rate is higher? What about species that live life normally but then sacrifice themselves during the mating process (talk about dedication 0.0) Ultimately, Schutt concludes that when it comes to nature, cannibalism occurs under certain conditions: 1. Means of survival 2. Starvation 3. Mating and all it's intricacies 4. Dominance (but not so frequent). He also debunks a lot of myths that surround many animals such as the praying mantis and polar bears. However, when it comes to humans, turns out we're much more darker which by now shouldn't be a shocker to anyone. Like I said, Schutt clearly states that this book is only approaching the topic from a scientific and cultural view. So put your excitement away film and horror fanatics. This book isn't discussing that. Yet, after the halfway mark, we start to look at humans, and things get gruesome. One of the most foreboding uses of cannibalism to learn about was not the actual act of cannibalism but how it was used as essentially a weapon. We often see in movies and books how explorers fall onto the Island where a tribe is living and this tribe sudden turn out to be cannibals. It's a trope used over and over again but has very dark route. You see, a lot of these so called "cannibal tribes" may just be a whole bunch of falsified propaganda. That's right ladies and gentlemen. When the Spanish were off "exploring" the new world, they stumbled onto the indigenous population. Upon asking Queen Isabel on what to do, she basically said "If they're not Catholic nor following the laws of Catholicisms not willing to convert, then only exert force on them" A bit cruel and harsh but religious freedom and diversity were not really present in those times. So did out Spanish explorers heed her words? No, they didn't. They manipulated her words into their advantage. Suddenly areas they had their eyes on or had resources were inhabited by "savage cannibals" that needed to be "educated" But are we surprised by that? Reading that chapter really made me think which was worse, cannibalism or using it as a means to extort colonialism? Schutt goes into describing some infamous incidents of cannibalism in our history. Why they occurred. What caused them/led up to it. How it was tampered with by the media. And what new information historians have uncovered. Turns out, most "dark and gruesome" incidents are fluffed up by media or hidden by the government. (It's always one or the other). Schutt also explains why some cultures view it as taboo while others have accepted the strenuous conditions under which cannibalism occurs into their culture. Ultimately, it's a book that's trying to show that cannibalism isn't as unnatural as we make it out to be. He's obviously not advocating for it but rather stating that it happens and that it shouldn't really shock us. In other words, stop making it the taboo topic to have over dinner because as it turns out, humans also resort to cannibalism under the same conditions as nature with the exception of a 5th reason - our darker side. We really are no better then nature because the only dividing line is our culture and morals. But put us in extreme situations, and our beast side takes over because despite walking and talking, we still are wild creatures in clothing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    This was a very entertaining, thoroughly fascinating look at cannibalism - a much-debated and frequently controversial topic outside of fiction. Bill Schutt has clearly done his research (his notes cover the last fifth of the novel!), as he covers topics ranging through the entire animal kingdom. Examples of cannibalism are listed from tadpoles to the now-extinct dinosaurs, and humans are absolutely not exempt from this scrutiny. I would whole-heartedly recommend this for anyone with an interest i This was a very entertaining, thoroughly fascinating look at cannibalism - a much-debated and frequently controversial topic outside of fiction. Bill Schutt has clearly done his research (his notes cover the last fifth of the novel!), as he covers topics ranging through the entire animal kingdom. Examples of cannibalism are listed from tadpoles to the now-extinct dinosaurs, and humans are absolutely not exempt from this scrutiny. I would whole-heartedly recommend this for anyone with an interest in unusual behaviours full stop, let alone just cannibalism; it's incredibly engaging, with a solid base in good science.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    Am I weird for impatiently waiting for a book on cannibalism to be released? After all, I've had this one on my TBR for months. Finally getting my hands on Bill Schutt's unconventional biology study, I'm happy to confirm that the wait was well worth it. Far from trying to sensationalize the subject, Schutt instead chooses to investigate every aspect of cannibalism from a hard science angle. He starts the book with a logical question: how common is cannibalism in nature, and if it is far from rare Am I weird for impatiently waiting for a book on cannibalism to be released? After all, I've had this one on my TBR for months. Finally getting my hands on Bill Schutt's unconventional biology study, I'm happy to confirm that the wait was well worth it. Far from trying to sensationalize the subject, Schutt instead chooses to investigate every aspect of cannibalism from a hard science angle. He starts the book with a logical question: how common is cannibalism in nature, and if it is far from rare, what causes animals to partake in such counterintuitive practice? After all, wouldn't all living things naturally abstain from eating their own kind due to higher likelihood of disease contamination, or to an all-ruling desire to preserve the species? What makes some animals kill their young - a definite strike against basic parenting instinct? Why would a certain species of shark evolve to consume their unborn siblings while in utero? Why do chickens attack and eat their neighbors in a crowded coop? While presenting all of these interesting examples, Schutt doesn't forget to debunk well-established myths about female praying mantis or black widow spiders. After proving that cannibalism in fact is quite natural to many species, the author moves on to a controversial subject of humans eating humans. He addresses questions associated with Neanderthals, Spanish colonialists in the New World, odd mortuary rituals of Brazilian natives, Biblical belief of transubstantiation, and finally some more recent cases among pioneers and WWII sieges. Schutt even tries out the relatively modern fad of eating a human placenta for pseudo medicinal reasons... Because science, of course. With knowledgeable research, good humour, and skilled writing style he manages to make a topic of high ick factor into a fascinating read full of thought provoking data.

  26. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    A very interesting read from a biologist--funny and personal and non-sensationalised. The British title is Eat Me, which is so much better. Takes a very reasonable attitude to cultural variance and non Western attitudes. Even better, the only account of cannibalism that's dwelt on in an anthropological "look at these people like specimens" way is of the peculiar modern cannibal subculture that's developed in the USA, with a description of a middle-class mum serving placenta for dinner. This pass A very interesting read from a biologist--funny and personal and non-sensationalised. The British title is Eat Me, which is so much better. Takes a very reasonable attitude to cultural variance and non Western attitudes. Even better, the only account of cannibalism that's dwelt on in an anthropological "look at these people like specimens" way is of the peculiar modern cannibal subculture that's developed in the USA, with a description of a middle-class mum serving placenta for dinner. This passage is hilarious. Lots of grounding in animal behaviour, no dwelling on psychopaths, a very thoughtful book with a lot of delightfully and grimly fascinating stuff. Reminds you we're all meat machines, really. But not in a bad way.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I kept thinking to myself, "I thought this would be more...meaty." HA! No, I didn't think that, although I kind of did. I truly did expect this to be more interesting. Unlike Mary Roach's or Mark Kurlansky's books (with exception to Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, which I couldn't even finish. No, I didn't finish my milk. #allthepuns), I didn't run around telling everyone what I'd just heard while I was listening to this book. Gabe didn't have to suffer listening to me exclaim, out of the blue, I kept thinking to myself, "I thought this would be more...meaty." HA! No, I didn't think that, although I kind of did. I truly did expect this to be more interesting. Unlike Mary Roach's or Mark Kurlansky's books (with exception to Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, which I couldn't even finish. No, I didn't finish my milk. #allthepuns), I didn't run around telling everyone what I'd just heard while I was listening to this book. Gabe didn't have to suffer listening to me exclaim, out of the blue, "Oh! Guess what I heard in that book about cannibalism?" more than once or twice. Actually, I was mostly bored with it all up through about the middle. The author first looks at cannibalism in the animal kingdom (minus the human animals), from insects to fish, reptiles, and amphibians then to mammals and I learned nothing new. (Yes I did - banana slugs. See the quote I liked) Maybe for people who haven't watched their rabbit give birth and then eat the babies or hadn't seen orb weavers wrapping up their mates for dinner while the male black widows happily left their girlfriends' houses post-coitally, maybe then this would be a solid foundation from which to launch into the second half of the book: People eating people. For me, though, it was just a lot of rehashing of stuff I already knew and it was not even put forth in an entertaining fashion. It was just biology. Well, zoology, I suppose, as the author's a zoologist. So then we get into people eating people and of course the Donner Party plays a big role in getting us motivated to learn about human cannibalism. As the Donner Party's situation plays out on the page, asides about other cannibalistic events in human history are introduced to help bolster the Why's and How's of our famous cannibal camping trip gone wrong. I did learn some stuff here, I think, but it was so weirdly laid out and explained, I will have to go research the event to find out just what this guy was trying to tell me. Also, why no Alferd Packer? It seems that would have been a good comparison piece. Then we go to China because of all the humans in the world, the Chinese have the best historical records. Thanks to said records, it's possible to find historical traces of documented cannibalism and the worst case ever recorded was during the Great Leap Forward when agriculture became so terribly mismanaged that everyone who wasn't rich was starving and dying. Now that we have a couple of historical examples of recent people eating people - oh, and of how colonizers love painting locals as cannibals so that we can eradicate them because no one wants to let such sinners stay on this earth...well, on the earth that they are inhabiting but we want - the author launches into a short piece on just why cannibalism is so maligned. The answer: Religion. Also, fairy tales. And now we can move on to contemporary examples, such as people eating placentas and Keith Richards snorting his father's ashes. The author tries placenta, cooked by the placenta-maker's husband. I sort of wondered why it had to be cooked to hide the flavor? Why wasn't it just fried up so the author could actually taste it? He never said. From there, we read about The Problems of Cannibalism, namely spongiform encephalopathies. Sheep get it and it's called scrapie (because it makes them feel like scraping themselves on fence posts), cows get it through being fed ground-up sick cows in the form of protein powder and it's called mad cow disease and you have to walk through sanitization stations if you're trekking through Scotland during an outbreak, and, of course, people get it from eating people and it's called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and kuru (which you may have learned about in that one episode of "Bones"). This is all pretty interesting, especially tracking kuru through the indigenous people of New Guinea but it also seemed a bit gossipy and glossed over, like we're hurrying on to the good stuff. Because that's what it was, a gossipy jump to the good stuff. Finally, we got to the part I was waiting for: When cannibalism isn't motivated by forces of nature (overpopulation, starvation, continuation of your DNA and removal of rival DNAs, etc), why does it happen? Well, see, he isn't here for sensationalism, which he states a few times throughout the book, despite beginning it all with a quote from Hannibal Lector as well as the tale of Edward Gein who was the inspiration for both Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill. (this one: not this one: ) I am also not here for sensationalism. I honestly wanted to know why cannibalism happens in the animal kingdom when it doesn't have to. I think the author's thoughts on that took up maybe a page. I was disappointed. And then he ends with a dire prediction which could quite possibly come true. The whole thing is mostly dry but not deep. It's a broad look at cannibalism across species, through time, all over the world (as per the subtitle). It definitely has some interesting bits and pieces but not enough to make me finish the book and think, "Wow. Now I want to learn a whole lot more about this fascinating topic!" My takeaway: Investigative journalists are better at compiling research to make an interesting case for weird topics than are zoologists. But I'm going to have to read more narrative non-fiction by zoologists before I can confirm.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    Interesting read.... though a bit difficult "to stomach" at times, due to the gruesome contents! Bill Schutt infuses dark humor with fact, relating what is known about cannibalism throughout species, from insects to humans. Being someone who has not eaten meat of any kind for 23 years, I could not help but feel grossed out throughout much of the book. However, I tried to keep an open mind, in spite of my queasy stomach, and found the book to be quite interesting for the most part. My science-lov Interesting read.... though a bit difficult "to stomach" at times, due to the gruesome contents! Bill Schutt infuses dark humor with fact, relating what is known about cannibalism throughout species, from insects to humans. Being someone who has not eaten meat of any kind for 23 years, I could not help but feel grossed out throughout much of the book. However, I tried to keep an open mind, in spite of my queasy stomach, and found the book to be quite interesting for the most part. My science-loving, anthropologically-interested brain won out over my easily-grossed-out vegan self. Kudos to Bill Schutt for turning a dark and gruesome subject into a fascinating book, covering everything from female spiders eating their male partners after sex, to famine-induced cannibalism amongst many species (including humans); from modern-day American placenta eaters to the Kuru-infected Fore people of New Guinea who ritually consumed their dead. "Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History" is probably not for everyone, but those not easily disgusted and interested in a wide array of topics that are covered in this book, or just with a love of the macabre, will probably enjoy this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Daphne

    As soon as I saw was an upcoming release, I knew I had to get my hands on it. It's such an interesting topic in biology, and I find it even more so when it is dealt with in a scientific and not specifically scintillating manner. This book meant those expectations and surprised me at many turns. Anyone that has been into pop-sci books for any length of time will recognize many examples used in this book, but I was really happy to see him find even more that I had not learned about yet. The last se As soon as I saw was an upcoming release, I knew I had to get my hands on it. It's such an interesting topic in biology, and I find it even more so when it is dealt with in a scientific and not specifically scintillating manner. This book meant those expectations and surprised me at many turns. Anyone that has been into pop-sci books for any length of time will recognize many examples used in this book, but I was really happy to see him find even more that I had not learned about yet. The last section on Prions was especially interesting because it is letting a general audience know that what we thought we knew about that disease may be all wrong. I don't care - Prions scare the absolute shit out of me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    Really enjoyable read! Remember all of those awesome studies from animal behavior class, like the ones that demonstrated how many animals avoid having sex with their father, mother, sister, or brother -- chemicals inside their noses and brains help them identify "self" and "non-self", instructing them not to have sex with anything too similar to "self" -- or the studies that demonstrated how sexual selection could spell death for sexy males -- female fish preferred the most orange males, which d Really enjoyable read! Remember all of those awesome studies from animal behavior class, like the ones that demonstrated how many animals avoid having sex with their father, mother, sister, or brother -- chemicals inside their noses and brains help them identify "self" and "non-self", instructing them not to have sex with anything too similar to "self" -- or the studies that demonstrated how sexual selection could spell death for sexy males -- female fish preferred the most orange males, which drove selection toward fish so orange, they were easily spotted and gobbled up by predators -- or the other studies that outlined the many shocking behaviors and likely motivations of various animals? Well, this book is chock full of those types of studies, only they are geared solely at understanding why animals might or might not eat each other instead of why they might or might not mate with each other. Here is a sampling of the intensely interesting things you will find in well researched chapters. Black Widows: Contrary to the well held belief that female Black Widows spiders and female Preying Mantis devour their males when mating, these cannibalistic behaviors are reserved for times of great stress, such as when there is a food shortage or these animals are in captivity. Since they had only been studied in captivity, researchers were only privy to the behaviors associated with that stressor. If the Black Widow had been observed in natural conditions, when food supplies were sufficient, she would have never gotten the name "Black Widow". In truth, females spiders are far more often the victims of cannibalism than the perpetrators. In at least one species of spider, the females do a dance to make the males notice them and choose them to mate with. Instead of having sex, as the female intended, she made herself noticed and became a tasty treat for a male spider who, with the energy gained from eating her, moved on to court another female spider who he did choose to mate with. When times are really lean, there is a spider species who eats its own limbs! Spiders and Praying Mantis are not the only animals who do not usually practice cannibalism but turn to that behavior when they are exposed to stressful or unusual conditions. Cats, mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits are all driven to cannibalism when facing similar conditions, but the hamster seems to be more prone to cannibalism than most species. If hamster siblings are kept in the same cage, they will often fight to the death at 4 weeks old, when they reach sexual maturity. The winner will eat the carcass of the loser. Though the behavior is common to many mothers, mother hamsters engage far more often in eating their young when the mother herself is handled close to the time when she gives birth or when her babies are handled when they are little. Apes: Cannibalism is generally rarer in ape species, including humans. However, when they engage in the practice, they are like other animals in that it is usually in times of stress, but not always. There have been serial killers who seem to enjoy eating their victims. There even seem to a pair of mother daughter serial killer chimpanzees, named Passion and Pom, who ate between 5 and 10 infants after attacking the new mothers. It seems it was all in an effort to obtain food. So, perhaps Passion and Pom's actions are not as unexplainable as Jeffery Dahmer's. Carnassial Dentation: The shape of teeth can tell us a lot about the evolution of various species. Schutt discussed the evolution of polar bear teeth to talk in general about how teeth, such as carnassial teeth, help meat eating species rip chunks of meet off their prey. Even though I have read a fair amount about this subject, I wasn't bored at all. In fact, I thought it was one of the better discussions on teeth and evolution. If you enjoy reading about ripping pieces of meat into smaller pieces, in order to aid digestion, I suggest you read, I Contain Multitudes as well. The author of that book, Ed Yong, gave a good bit of detail about gut microbes-- where they are placed in the gut, in front or behind -- so that the animals and the microbes both enjoy a wonderful meal. Yong discussed the types of microbes needed for a meat eating diet vs. a vegetable diet. I could not stop thinking about what Yong wrote when reading this section of Schutt's Cannibalism book. Schutt also used the polar bear section to satisfyingly discuss climate change and the stupidity of the media. Definitely worth reading. Hyenas and infanticide: Who doesn't love to eat babies? It seems that most animals who eat meat, love to eat the babies most. This seems to hold true whether it is a different species or a different species from the animal doing the eating. Chimps patrol their borders and when they encounter a female and her baby, they kill the baby and try to hook up with the female. Nothing says love like murdering her offspring. Chimps are not alone. Males from many different animal species eat babies in order to push females into estrus, so they can mate with them. One female species has evolved a protection against infanticide, and as a result is a dominant member of their clan-- the hyena. To really understand the magic of female hyena biology, it's important to understand sexual development in embryos. Embryos are genderless but have precursors to mammary glands and penises. If an embryo gets an XY chromosome the penis bud will grow, but the memory glands will not. . If the embryo receives XX, the embryo will still grow the penis bud but then get the signal to stop the growth when it is very small, leaving behind a clitoris instead of a large penis. The XX will also send a signal to grow the mammary glands. Males have nipples but cannot feed a baby. This is because they do not have XX, which makes mammary glands that allows milk to flow through the nipples. XY and XX chromosomes use hormones to signal which morphology a body should have. The XY chromosome contains testosterone, which signals the penis bud to grow into a penis . The XX chromosome contains estrogen, which is what signals the growth of mammary glands. In spotted hyenas, researchers believe a mutation developed to provide the female spotted hyena with more testosterone, resulting in a signal to grow the penis bud out more. Thus, female hyenas have a very large clitoris (elongated penis bud). Their vulva is fused shut, allowing them to pee through their clitoris/penis bud, just like a male pees through their penis. When a male wants to have sex with a female, she really has to be receptive, just as a male would have to be receptive to have sex. This is because it's actually like inserting a penis into a penis, making it virtually impossible to force a female to have sex. While evolution did them a favor in not allowing them to be raped by males, it was unkind to them in regards to birthing offspring (I am so glad that I am not a female hyena!). The cub has to come out somewhere and unfortunately it rips the vulva. That was painful to even read about. I do have to say though, this was absolutely the best discussion on hyena biology of any book I have read so far. The rest of the book: The last part of the book veered away from animal behavior and examined the more sociological aspects of cannibalism-- where the word originated, how it appeared in literature throughout the ages, and what our current conception of cannibalism is. Those aspects went on a little too long for my taste, but I can imagine other people enjoying those sections.

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