On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears

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Overview

Stephen Asma's On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters - how they have evolved over time, what functions they serve, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future. Monsters embody our deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities, Asma argues, but they also symbolize the murky territory beyond the safe enclosures of rational thought. By exploring monster stories past and present, Asma uncovers the inner logic of each era's fears and illuminates the ways in which monsters have become repositories for those human qualities that must be repudiated, externalized, and defeated.\

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Sims
Cleverly conceived and slyly written, Stephen Asma's survey of monsters is not content merely to parade the usual suspects—the fretful dead or the giant recluses of the deep sea. Instead, this Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears leads us on a safari through the many manifestations of our idea of the monstrous. I have seldom read a book that so satisfyingly achieves such an ambitious goal…Asma explores all sorts of historical and psychological terrain, deliberately seeking a confrontation with every monster in our nasty little minds. The book's antique title positions Asma in the tradition of comprehensive personal essayists, a la Robert Burton; even his endnotes are unpredictably broad and flavored with outrage and humor. The result is a confident and appealing authorial presence.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Asma's book zooms in on the subject of monsters, both mythical and real, past, present and future, detailing how they have fascinated and frightened the human imagination through all of recorded time. Conjuring dread, the mind's eye has embraced the Philistine giant Goliath, Grendel, the golem of Jewish lore, Frankenstein's monster, freak shows, monster spectacles and werewolves with equal parts affection and terror, writes Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago. Using varied media sources, from history to legend and literature, Asma studies the symbolic meaning of monsters (e.g., biblical monsters represent arrogance in the face of God's power) and their psychological function. He concludes that humans need an excuse to fight, protect and defend, as well as to transfer those horrific qualities, our own monstrous desires, to inhuman beings. A wide-ranging exploration of fear and evil, Asma's presentation and theories are original and practical, depicting those dark, repulsive notions of an unstable, turbulent world in which everybody must struggle to remain human and civilized. 30 b&w illus. (Oct.)\
From the Publisher
"Monsters literal and metaphorical are dissected with skill and discernment in philosopher and scholar Asma's penetrating "unnatural history." Erudite, funny, and deeply attuned to the profound psychological and moral implications of monstrousness, Asma encompasses the mystical and the scientific as he ponders the simultaneous repulsion and attraction monsters arouse... Asma is insightful and entertaining in his discussion of monsters of the deep, supernatural doppelgangers, zombies, and vampires, and intense in his discussion of Freud and the 'science of monstrous feelings...' Asma's far-reaching book of monsterology is original, captivating, and profoundly elucidating."—Booklist starred review

"With insight, erudition, and humor, Asma's compendium of monsterology traces the evolving meanings and manifestations of monsters since antiquity, in religion, philosophy, science, literature, popular culture, and the human psyche. To explain the eternal attraction and repulsion of the monstrous, Asma draws on material from Aristotle to nanotechnology, revealing myriad, surprising ways that supernatural, natural, and metaphorical monsters inhabit the landscape of our imagination."—Adrienne Mayor, author of The First Fossil Hunters and The Poison King

"On Monsters is a humorously omnivorous consideration of the monstrous. It's a delightful book, a terrific balance of scholarship and wonder."—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife

"A wide-ranging exploration of fear and evil, Asma's presentation and theories are original and practical, depicting those dark, repulsive notions of an unstable, turbulent world in which everybody must struggle to remain human and civilized." —Publishers Weekly

"A comprehensive modern-day bestiary."—New Yorker

"Cleverly conceived and slyly written...I have seldom read a book that so satisfyingly achieves such an ambitious goal... His new book is a feast." —Washington Post

"Spelunking adventure through the caverns of world history, culture and thought." —Chicago Sun-Times

"Asma has a lucid, engaging style, and he uses it to provide a thoughtfully breezy survey of the bizarre and the lurking." —Chicago Reader

In his new book, On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, Columbia College lecturer Stephen Asma lays out a frightful and compelling bestiary." —Time Out Chicago

"This highly readable, often humorous book is suitable for anyone interested in the history of ideas, culture, and the imagination." —Choice

"Asma's book is a thoroughly entertaining and informative discussion of human fear and monsters. It consistently takes the reader in unexpected directions and makes complex connections that are not readily apparent. The mixture of history, religion, psychology, and philosophy, infused with periodic doses of popular culture references, makes this book much more than simply a bestiary of monsters."—Journal of Folklore Research

"A thoroughly entertaining and informative discussion of human fear and monsters. It consistently takes the reader in unexpected directions and makes complex connections that are not readily apparent. The mixture of history, religion, psychology, and philosophy, infused with periodic doses of popular culture references, makes this book much more than simply a bestiary of monsters." —Journal of Folklore Research

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195336160
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/14/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 470,391
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he holds the title of Distinguished Scholar.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Extraordinary Beings
Part 1 - Ancient Monsters
1 Alexander Fights Monsters in India
2 Monsters Are Nature's Playthings
3 Hermaphrodites and Man-headed Oxen
4 Monstrous Desire
Part 2 - Medieval Monsters: Messages from God
5 Biblical Monsters
6 Do Monsters Have Souls?
7 The Monster Killer
8 Possessing Demons and Witches
Part 3 - Scientific Monsters: The Book of Nature is Riddled with Typos
9 Natural History, Freaks, and Nondescripts
10 The Medicalization of Monsters
11 Darwin's Mutants
Part 4 - Inner Monsters: The Psychological Aspects
12 The Art of Human Vulnerability: Angst and Horror
13 Criminal Monsters: Psychopathology, Aggression, and the Malignant Heart
Part 5 - Monsters Today and Tomorrow
14 Torturers, Terrorists, and Zombies: The Products of Monstrous Societies
15 Future Monsters: Robots, Mutants, and Posthuman Cyborgs
Epilogue
Notes
Index

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2010

    Excellent read

    A highly engaging tour de force on monsters; both real and imagined. The author blends literature, TV shows, movies, psychology, medicine, forensics, anthropology, philosophy and more to explore and explain what monsters are, why they exist and what is our attraction to them. The title is a bit lame but you will definitely enjoy the book and even have have quite a few "aha" moments.

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  • Posted November 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very Interesting

    Mr. Asma presents an interesting look into the subject of monsters, the mythological, pathological and futuristic. I found this book to both interesting, and entertaining.

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