Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt
Published by Algonquin Books on February 14, 2017
Genres: non fiction, science, history, anthropology, biology, nature, psychology
Rating: 4 stars
Recommend to fans of: books that include a comprehensive mix of multiple sciences to uncover the facts, science nerds
Read with food: 100% vegan salad
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.
A book about cannibalism seems like it would be weird and horrific, but it was actually quite intriguing. That is not to say I want to engage in cannibalism … actually quite the opposite.
The book discusses the history of cannibalism in animals and humans, and the mainly evolutionary and survival purposes for the practices. Young animals, especially amphibians, would engage in cannibalism by eating other smaller animals of the same species to increase their chance of survival. I found this fact intriguing and informative, as my preconceived notions were that cannibalism was only creep psychotic serial killers.
In humans, the practice of medical cannibalism throughout history occurred in some cultures. Mainly as an attempt to cure health conditions or periods of extreme famine.
Overall, I found this book to be incredibly interesting. The author is truly trying to understand the practice of cannibalism, not sensationalize it. A bit of an odd book choice for some, but if the topic intrigues you, then I definitely recommend this book.