4 Star Books · Book Reviews · non fiction

Book Review: Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

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Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

Published by Algonquin Books on February 14, 2017

Pages: 332

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

 

Synopsis: 

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.

Review: 

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.

 

So . . . I want to know, what’s the weirdest book you’ve read?

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Book Reviews

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

Published by: Atria Books on May 12, 2015

Pages: 261

Genres: non fiction, science, memoir

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

Synopsis: 

In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus’ surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature: and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.

Sy Montgomery’s popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, “Deep Intellect”; about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?

The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.

Review: 

The Soul of an Octopus is incredibly fascinating! The author takes us along on her journey as she gets to know several of the octopuses who live at the New England Aquarium. I learned so much about these magnificent, intelligent, and mysterious creatures. Of course the book covers the basics such as the octopus life cycle, habitats, and behaviors.

What sets the book apart from others of the same genre is the passion for these magnificent creatures of the deep. The love for each octopus as an individual is evident as the reader gets to know, appreciate, and care about each octopus. They have individual personalities, not unlike humans and other animals. Through Athena, Octavia, Kali, and Karma the reader is able to experience a world often unknown. I felt extremely privileged to learn about each unique octopus.

The only sections of the book that I didn’t enjoy as much were the pages about scuba diving. These experiences were frustrating for the author, which I definitely picked up on. I’m also more of an animal lover, than a swimmer so that probably affected it too.

Overall, my sentiment for this book is best represented by my initial reaction . . . I found myself stopping within the first 30 pages to keep telling people around me, the new facts I had learned about octopuses.

 

Recommend to fans of: animals, the ocean, science, heartwarming stories, books that remind us of our humanity

Read with food: vegetarian sushi and a hot mug of green tea

Vegetarian sushi is a nice tribute to the sea life without eating our friends.

A hot mug of green tea pairs nicely with the sushi and will warm you up after reading about the cold sea water.