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Cannibalism
Cover of Cannibalism
Cannibalism
A Perfectly Natural History
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"A masterful and compulsively readable book that challenges our preconceived notions about a behavior often sensationalized in our culture and, until just recently, misunderstood in the scientific world." —Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus, American Museum of Natural History, and author of The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack
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 masterful and compulsively readable book that challenges our preconceived notions about a behavior often sensationalized in our culture and, until just recently, misunderstood in the scientific world." —Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus, American Museum of Natural History, and author of The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack
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.

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About the Author-
  • Bill Schutt is a professor of biology at LIU Post and a research associate in residence at the American Museum of Natural History. His first book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures, was selected as a Best Book of 2008 by Library Journal and Amazon and was chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. Born in New York City and raised on Long Island by parents who encouraged his love for turning over stones and peering under logs, Schutt quickly grew a passion for the natural world, with its enormous wonders and its increasing vulnerability. He received his PhD in zoology from Cornell and has published over two dozen peer-reviewed articles on topics ranging from terrestrial locomotion in vampire bats to the precarious, arboreal copulatory behavior of a marsupial mouse. His research has been featured in Natural History magazine as well as the New York Times, Newsday, the Economist, and Discover magazine. He was recently reelected to the board of directors of the North American Society for Bat Research. Schutt lives on the East End of Long Island with his wife and son.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 5, 2017
    Cannibalism is more widespread than generally believed, argues zoologist Schutt in this thorough and oddly enticing study of the different ways species eat their own. Common practices among tadpoles, chimpanzees, sand tiger sharks, polar bears, and other animals are covered, but the book’s most fascinating sections deal with instances of cannibalism in human history. Schutt identifies 50 different types of human cannibalism, including more common but less obvious practices like eating one’s fingernails and placenta. Actor Perkins brings a breezy, confident style of reading to the audio edition. His pacing is just right for a text that is both informative and humorous, and he evinces no discomfort when reading the more explicit passages, making those parts of the book a whole lot easier to stomach. An Algonquin hardcover.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2016

    Cannibalism has seemingly always held a place of the utmost abhorrence in human society. But why, asks Schutt (Dark Banquet; biology, LIU Post, NY; research associate, American Museum of Natural History), when cannibalism is such a normal part of nature as a whole? In a witty, often funny, and thoroughly fascinating study, Schutt delves into cannibalism as an everyday occurrence throughout the animal kingdom. Cannibalism is a biological imperative, he argues, that is brought about by environmental stress factors. For example, there is a species of fish whose female gives birth to thousands and thousands of baby fish, only to eat most of them in order to replenish nutrients lost from the act of giving birth. The author also explores the human history of cannibalism and how it became such a taboo in our society--culminating in the most famous case in U.S. history: the tragic case of the Donner party. VERDICT Schutt's writing is delightfully accessible, rarely boring, and utterly captivating. A must-buy for high school and public libraries.--Tyler Hixson, School Library Journal

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Cannibalism
A Perfectly Natural History
Bill Schutt
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