Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is a book about cannibalism.
Laced with dark humor, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History covers cannibalism in many in its many forms. Schutt starts with the animal kingdom, noting nutritional and evolutionary advantages to snacking on your own species. Tadpoles do it, insects do it, even the monkeys in the trees do it.
The bulk of the book deals with human cannibalism, from the Neanderthal to the present day. There's cannibalism for medicinal reasons, like epileptics drinking blood in Victorian times, to powdered mummies being injested, to cannibalism for religious reasons.
Religious and cultural views on cannibalism are explored, as is the grand daddy of them all, the Donner Party. Schutt deliberately sidesteps cannibal serial killers since that topic has been sensationalized to death by the media. The modern placenta-eating movement is covered in great detail, as are kuru and similar diseases.
The writing in Cannibalism is engaging, tinged with Schutt's dark brand of humor. I devoured the book in two long sittings like a tribesman not wanting his relative's corpse to go to waste as food for maggots. Apart from Bill Bryson, I'm not usually drawn to non-fiction but this book was really hard to put down.
If I had to pick out something to bitch about, it would be that kuru and other spongiform encephalopathies were given a little too much space. Apart from that not mentioning the episode of The IT Crowd that was about a cannibal, I have no complaints. I recommend to anyone even remotely interested in cannibalism. Four out of five stars.
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