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Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (2017)

von Bill Schutt

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3963850,038 (3.96)21
"Eating one's own kind is completely natural behavior in thousands of species, including humans. Throughout history we have engaged in cannibalism for reasons relating to famine, burial rites, and medicinal remedies. Cannibalism has been used as a form of terrorism but also as the ultimate expression of filial piety. With unexpected wit and a wealth of knowledge, Bill Schutt, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, takes us on a tour of the field, exploring exciting new avenues of research and investigating questions like why so many fish eat their offspring and some amphibians consume their mother's skin; why sexual cannibalism is an evolutionary advantage for certain spiders; why, until the end of the eighteenth century, British royalty regularly ate human body parts; how cannibalism may be linked to the extinction of Neanderthals; why microbes on sacramental bread may have led to Catholics' to persecute European Jews in the Middle Ages. Today, the subject of humans consuming one another has been relegated to the realm of horror movies, fiction, and the occasional psychopath, but be forewarned: As climate change progresses and humans see more famine, disease, and overcrowding, biological and cultural constraints may well disappear. These are the very factors that lead to outbreaks of cannibalism. As he examines these close encounters of the cannibal kind, Bill Schutt makes the ick-factor fascinating"--… (mehr)
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The idea of cannibalism has long simultaneously fascinated and repulsed us. Despite occurring naturally and widely across the animal kingdom, when it comes to us humans, civilizations across the ages have nearly unanimously regarded it as taboo. Zoologist Bill Schutt sets out to examine cannibalism from a purely scientific perspective, from fish and dinosaurs to insects and, yes, humans. Schutt deliberately steers clear of sensationalized contemporary examples of criminal cannibalism, focusing instead on way it has manifested in historically ritualistic or medicinal aspects of culture.

Natural history is one of my favorite areas of study, so I found this an interesting read. Recommended for fans of same. ( )
  ryner | Jun 16, 2021 |
Sometimes books arrive for me at the library that I really don't remember ordering. It's a bit concerning, but I always end up reading them anyway. This is delightfully disturbing non-fiction, not for the squeamish -- especially the placenta chapter. I am fascinated by prion diseases (scrapie, mad cow disease, kuru, etc) which is probably why I initially ordered this book -- there are several short chapters dedicated to the topic. The author was a little overly-colloquial in some places (trying a little too hard to connect with the reader) but overall entertaining even with some dark subject matter. There also some delightfully gruesome black and white illustrations. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
This was quite an interesting read. It was a bit of a slow start, but it really picked up once the author moved away from cannibalism in invertebrates and into mammals, primates, and humans. I appreciated the author's skepticism and his moments of snark. He never veered too far into the grotesque for shock value and kept a steady stream of interesting and educational information coming.

Overall, I think this is going to be up there with [b:Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do|2776527|Traffic Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)|Tom Vanderbilt|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1320428955s/2776527.jpg|2802281] when ti comes to books that were a pleasant surprise and get referenced far more in casual conversation than I would have expected. ( )
  mediumofballpoint | Mar 4, 2019 |
This is an overview of cannibalistic practices all over the world, in humans and animals alike.
The author starts with the curious fact that people are fascinated with cannibalism and it is often assumed that it is a universal taboo.
About the first third of the book checks cannibalism in the animal kingdom, including spiders, toads, praying mantis, sharks, polar bears, snails, crickets, chimpanzees and many more. It is shown that the behavior is not unique and often it is linked to stress, hunger and higher survival chances for the cannibal.
Then the author shifts to cases of human cannibalism throughout the history, from Homer and Bible accounts to Mao’s great famine of the 1960s. A big piece is for the Donner party – a piece of the US history I wasn’t privy to before.
Overall, an interesting ‘bird view’ on the issue, written for a broad public and without sensationalism.
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
A thorough, even-handed introduction to the realities of cannibalism in humans and other animals. Schutt does a great job of not sensationalizing, and of bringing in a multiplicity of viewpoints. Alas for me, I'd read several of his sources already, so I didn't learn much new. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Nov 8, 2018 |
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For Janet and Billy Schutt

And for my best friend,

Robert A. Adamo (1953-2011)
For Janet and Billy Schutt

And for my best friend, Robert A. Adamo (1953-2011)
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To mark its 100-year anniversary in 2003, the American Film Institute polled a jury of 1,500 actors, writers, directors, and historians, to determine the 50 greatest screen villains of all time. (prologue)
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"Eating one's own kind is completely natural behavior in thousands of species, including humans. Throughout history we have engaged in cannibalism for reasons relating to famine, burial rites, and medicinal remedies. Cannibalism has been used as a form of terrorism but also as the ultimate expression of filial piety. With unexpected wit and a wealth of knowledge, Bill Schutt, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, takes us on a tour of the field, exploring exciting new avenues of research and investigating questions like why so many fish eat their offspring and some amphibians consume their mother's skin; why sexual cannibalism is an evolutionary advantage for certain spiders; why, until the end of the eighteenth century, British royalty regularly ate human body parts; how cannibalism may be linked to the extinction of Neanderthals; why microbes on sacramental bread may have led to Catholics' to persecute European Jews in the Middle Ages. Today, the subject of humans consuming one another has been relegated to the realm of horror movies, fiction, and the occasional psychopath, but be forewarned: As climate change progresses and humans see more famine, disease, and overcrowding, biological and cultural constraints may well disappear. These are the very factors that lead to outbreaks of cannibalism. As he examines these close encounters of the cannibal kind, Bill Schutt makes the ick-factor fascinating"--

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