Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

by Bill Schutt


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Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

“A masterful and compulsively readable book that challenges our preconceived notions about a behavior often sensationalized in our culture and, until just recently, misunderstood in the scientific world.” —Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus, American Museum of Natural History, and author of The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack

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.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616204624
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 02/14/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 804,241
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Bill Schutt is a professor of biology at LIU Post and a research associate in residence at the American Museum of Natural History. His first book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures, was selected as a Best Book of 2008 by Library Journal and Amazon and was chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. Born in New York City and raised on Long Island by parents who encouraged his love for turning over stones and peering under logs, Schutt quickly grew a passion for the natural world, with its enormous wonders and its increasing vulnerability. He received his PhD in zoology from Cornell and has published over two dozen peer-reviewed articles on topics ranging from terrestrial locomotion in vampire bats to the precarious, arboreal copulatory behavior of a marsupial mouse. His research has been featured in Natural History magazine as well as the New York Times, Newsday, the Economist, and Discover magazine. He was recently reelected to the board of directors of the North American Society for Bat Research. Schutt lives on the East End of Long Island with his wife and son.

Table of Contents

Prologue ix

1 Animal the Cannibal 1

2 Go On, Eat the Kids 21

3 Sexual Cannibalism, or Size Matters 35

4 Quit Crowding Me 52

5 Bear Down 62

6 Dinosaur Cannibals? 69

7 File Under: Weird 78

8 Neanderthals and the Guys in the Other Valley 84

9 Columbus, Caribs, and Cannibalism 99

10 Bones of Contention 109

11 Cannibalism and the Bible 123

12 The Worst Party Ever 133

13 Eating People Is Bad 174

14 Eating People Is Good 195

15 Chia Skulls and Mummy Powder 207

16 Placenta Helper 219

17 Cannibalism in the Pacific Islands 243

18 Mad Cows and Englishmen 263

19 Acceptable Risk 275

Epilogue: One Step Beyond 287

Acknowledgments 297

Notes 300

Recommended Books on Cannibalism and Related Topics 328

Interview with the Cannibal Author 333

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Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
AndrewReadsBooks More than 1 year ago
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is a fascinating read exploring the natural and social history of cannibalism. Bill Schutt provides an engaging and balanced approach to the subject, and manages to satisfy both academic and morbid curiosities. The book provides surprising levels of detail and analytic depth (particularly in the later discussions of anthropological research), while at the same time incorporating a fair amount of humor and wit. The book covers a LOT of territory, and readers can expect to learn about everything from spider sex positions and cichlid parenting strategies to colonial racial politics and prion diseases. While the early chapters on animal models of cannibalism provide a fascinating foundation for the text (did I mention there's a whole chapter on dinosaur cannibalism?), I feel like the real meat of the book (if Schutt makes puns, so will I) comes in the second half when he provides a remarkably fair discussion of human cannibalism. Rather than pursue mad killers, he explores the archaeological and anthropological record to understand the prevalence and functions of cannibalism in human societies. Far from taking a position of cultural tourism, Schutt confronts many of the stereotypes we've developed about cannibalistic behaviors. In highlighting how cannibalism has been used as a tool of political conquest, he echoes concerns voiced by other major writers on the topic that question historical claims of widespread ritualistic sacrifices. His assessment of Lysenkoism and it's impacts on Soviet and Chinese cannibalism are also fascinating and have real implications for modern policy. The chapters on the identification and development of our understanding of spongiform encephalopathies traverses the research from the early 1900s through to the modern debate about prions. If you enjoy witty and at times morbid scientific reads, then I strongly encourage this book. If you're looking for scary stories about cannibalism to tell friends, you should probably read something else.