A Perfectly Natural History

Book - 2017
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"Surprising. Impressive. Cannibalism restores my faith in humanity." -- Sy Montgomery, The New York Times Book Review

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.
Publisher: Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, ©2017.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9781616204624
Characteristics: 332 pages :,illustrations ;,24 cm


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OPL_DavidD Sep 19, 2018

An informative and entertaining take on a fascinating subject. Serial killers only get a brief mention in the introducation (this isn't a true crime book). The author looks at the different reasons both animals and humans partake in acts of cannibalism, whether out of desperation or ritual. You will learn a lot of fun facts that will get you sideways glances if you bring them up at dinner parties (which is a course of action I recommend).

Mar 25, 2017

Drenched as it is in philosophical naturalism (hard-core materialism), the book and judgments reflect the author’s opinions. To give you an idea: the author partakes in cannibalism, eating the fried placenta of a woman and, of course, it tastes like . . . . you'll have to read it to find out. Likewise, his discussion of Roman Catholic (I'm not RC) communion as an act of cannibalism is infantile and feeble. His tracing of “mad cow” disease and the kuru among New Guineans are interesting. So, too, his discussions of varied animals and insects. Popularly written. Of passing interest.

SCL_Tricia Feb 25, 2017

The author does a great job of approaching the subject, he attempts to keep sensationalism out of his work, but at the same time he is not overly dry or boring. It doesn't seem likely but parts of the book are very funny. I finished this book quickly, I could not put it down! It would seem that once an interesting topic had run it's course, another equally intriguing subject would be brought up, leaving me in a perpetual cycle of just one more chapter! El terrifico was a secondary reader of the book, gleaning all the good parts through my constant "did you knows".
If you want sensational tales of murderers and man-eaters, you won't find that here. Instead, this book focuses on cannibalism in a biological, anthropological, and sociological sense. A much more interesting read. Wonderful creative nonfiction.

Dec 28, 2016

at a fine restaurant sometime in the near future: the maitre d' announces "donner, party of ate, donner, party of ate" burp.

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