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Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  4,138 ratings  ·  732 reviews
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 sensationali ...more
Hardcover, 332 pages
Published February 14th 2017 by Algonquin Books
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Bill Nothing I'd give an arm and a leg for.…moreNothing I'd give an arm and a leg for.(less)
Shidyn Mastin love this book so much, but somehow i almost wish it was about vore. that sounds hilarious. give me a vore book 2k20

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Hannah Greendale
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Schutt sucks all the fun out of cannibalism, swapping morbid curiosity and sensationalism for stilted prose and heavy-handed science.
Dan Schwent
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, 2018-books
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,
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I know this might be the wrong thing to say but I enjoyed this book, for such a hard topic the author did a very good job of keeping the theme of the narrative fun and light . This is a study about cannibalism as it happens around the world , how cannibalism has used by colonial powers to brand cultures as such and then using that as an excuse to colonize them. It also dwells into the dinner party and it reaches an agreeable conclusion , I do think that this book will enlighten whoever is intere ...more
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I got weird reactions from my co-workers while I was reading this book. I explained that I’m planning to go on a camping trip, so I’m reading some survival guides, starting with this book. Long story short -- I read this book in peace!

But really, “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History” is not really a survivor’s manual, get a hold of yourself! The book explores the practice across the animal kingdom, and argues that we can actually learn a lot from observing any species that sometimes eats it
Nenia ✨️ I yeet my books back and forth ✨️ Campbell

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I blame Bill Nye for fostering in me a fascination with all things science (something I think he'd gladly take the credit for). Romance novels might be my one true love, but pop science nonfiction is the other woman, my secret mistress, the one I keep coming back to again and again on the sly.

I was trying to talk about why this book is so good, but my friends and family were having none of it. So instead, I'm going to talk to you, my del
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
When the mention of cannibalism enters a discussion, many think of human skulls being used as soup bowls or how a liver might be nicely accompanied by some fava beans. However, Bill Schutt argues that these have been overly dramatised views and were likely drummed up from a horror movie or documents in history meant to demean a specific group. His exploration of cannibalism throughout the various species does include humans, though there are but one minute example of the overall study found here ...more
Lukas Anthony
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Absolutely *DEVOURED* this....I'm sorry, sometimes the urge to pun is just too strong. ...more
Mario the lone bookwolf
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Natural doesn´t have to be better all the time.

Please note that I have put the original German text to the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

Cannibalism is only so controversial in human societies. One would just eat another person in exceptional situations. In a classic plane crash or if, in a post-apocalyptic world, the survival of the family depends on it.

When human flesh was part of religious ceremonies, it often included exocannibalism. The inclusion of the power of the en
Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction books but for some reason as soon as I saw this book I knew I wanted to read it. I love learning about anything medical or science related so it was as surprising of a choice as you might think. I have always said that I read a little bit of everything and this book is proof positive of that fact. Cannibalism is a really interesting subject and I learned a lot while listening to this book. It was rea
Tudor Vlad
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was fun. I know, a book about cannibalism, how fun could that be? There are times when the book is dry and there were moments when I trudged through pages and pages of information. Still, for the most time the author manages to infuse this, at times, creepy subject with enough humor to make it easier to go through records of people eating their dead relatives, mothers eating their placenta and lots of other things that made me lose my appetite. Warning: do not read this before or after a me ...more
Ellen Gail
Life lesson: most of your coworkers won't want to discuss the cannibalism habits of tadpoles or the progression of prion diseases. They will look at you strangely.

Well well well. This was a fun little bit of science! Author Bill Schutt did a great job of combining scientific evidence, speculation, history, and humor. He also does a good job of touching on a broad range of cannibalism topics, such as prion diseases, placenta eating, natural (and unnatural) cannibalism in nature, filial piety, med
Nick Pageant
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I know I'm not likely to convince anyone to read this but for a few special souls (I'm looking at you, Kelly). Still, this is a fun book. The author has a very light touch, lending humor to the gruesome business. I learned lots of useless trivia (that's why we all read so much, right?) and I'll never turn my back on a tadpole again. They are ruthless little bastards.

Katie Ranyard
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Book Riot Community
I read some excellent books in February, but nothing made me as gleefully happy as this book did. Lest you think I am an aspiring cannibal, it’s important to know that this is not a gruesome, sensational retelling of cannibalism among modern serial killers; Schutt respectfully stays away from that in favor of exploring the history of cannibalism from a biological and anthropological viewpoint. So no Jeffrey Dahmer, and plenty of spiders sacrificing themselves up to their young and slugs getting ...more
Mar 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017, nonfiction
Away for the weekend for my husband's work, we went out for a group dinner last night not long after I finished reading Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, and as one does, I steered the conversation around to the topic of cannibalism – even as we nibbled our artisanal pizzas – and I held the group in thrall with a couple of the anecdotes I had gleaned from this book. We returned to the hotel and someone suggested we play the game Table Talk. The first question was, “If you were cremated, ...more
So, just to deter any possible squeamish readers: Schutt eats placenta, prepared a la osso bucco, in this book. I kinda-sorta-maybe-wanna eat placenta right now, just to see how it tastes. Is that gross? Probably. But I'm just curious - and as we all know, curiosity killed the cat. This time it might kill the cat through the form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. If I go, I might as well go from something that has a long, cool, science-y sounding name. What you'll find in this book: fa ...more
The Behrg
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure if reading a non-fiction novel about Cannibalism says more about the READER than it does the AUTHOR, but I found this a disturbingly fascinating read. Running the gamut from insects to the animal world to dinosaurs and neanderthals, the book then jumps to more modern cases from the Donner party to survival cannibalism to placentophagy.

The research and science behind zoologist Bill Schutt's study is impressive, if at times overwhelming. I definitely identified more with the human as
Jenny Bunting
Mar 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Utterly fascinating piece of non-fiction that is easy-to-follow, accessible, and snarky. I do think it lost focus at the 11th hour when it discussed Mad Cow Disease (which I totally missed the connective tissue *pun intended* of how he got there). Still, it was haunting and chilling but totally gave compelling reasons for why some societies turned to cannibalism and discussed how it became taboo. You start asking yourself, "Would I eat someone if I were hungry enough?" I mean, I do get HANGRY bu ...more
Oct 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is one of the rare non-fiction that is compulsively readable. The author has an irreverent tone, which was the perfect match for this topic. There were more than a few minutes that I chuckled at a delightful turn of phrase. For instance, here is a brief description of a cannibalistic spider mating dance:

"By now, if the female hasn't already eaten the male (which can put a serious dent into all of this foreplay) the spiders briefly assume 'Gerhardt's position 3'. To visualize this, picture
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
See my (drunk) review on Booktube! ...more
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Hmmmm! What to say about this non-fiction read that I thought would be more "scientific" than it was? Closer to a 2.5 star for me? Yes, but then I rounded it up for the first half. Because those sections hold chapters of information in the kind of microscopic and observable detail of physicality "eyes" that I anticipated the entire volume would have. But didn't.

Those form chapters of classified invertebrates and the precise definition of the various categories of cannibalism were all 4 or 5. As
Tyler J Gray

My brain feels like it's going to explode with all the knowledge i've packed into it from reading this book so quickly.

Accessible, well written, avoids being sensational. A lot of interesting history. Maybe i'll write a better review one day, maybe not, but I am very glad to have read this book and definitely recommend it.
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
After finals and the mental slog of having finished my first year of law school, I needed something light, fun, and airy.

Enter cannibalism. I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me relax like eating people. (I am a Soylent convert, after all).

Fascinating, original, comprehensive, and refreshing, this is a very well-done book. The beginning runs a little slower- it’s a little hard to get excited about tadpoles and tiny water flea things, I know- but it sets the mental and evolutionary gro
This was a very entertaining, thoroughly fascinating look at cannibalism - a much-debated and frequently controversial topic outside of fiction.

Bill Schutt has clearly done his research (his notes cover the last fifth of the novel!), as he covers topics ranging through the entire animal kingdom. Examples of cannibalism are listed from tadpoles to the now-extinct dinosaurs, and humans are absolutely not exempt from this scrutiny.

I would whole-heartedly recommend this for anyone with an interest i
Alex Sarll
By turns hilarious and horrific, this book will have you quoting curious facts at people like a ghoulish child given The Bumper Book Of Cannibal Facts by an imprudent aunt. And if those people don't edge away from you, you know the right people. Consider curious amphibian order the caecilians, some of whom lay eggs and some birth live young, but all of whom consume non-lethal quantities of their mothers in early life. Or that eating the placenta is thoroughly ubiquitous among those mammals who h ...more
Want to make people look twice? Read this book daringly in public. You're guaranteed to get head's turning.

What can I say about this book? It's exactly what it says it is, the history of cannibalism. Bill Schutt takes a scientific and culture approach to this so taboo topic. We first warm ourselves by seeing how nature views this "taboo" only to learn that nature could care less. In the world of eat or be eaten, you use everything you can to survive, even if that mean you eat your own undevelope
Am I weird for impatiently waiting for a book on cannibalism to be released? After all, I've had this one on my TBR for months. Finally getting my hands on Bill Schutt's unconventional biology study, I'm happy to confirm that the wait was well worth it. Far from trying to sensationalize the subject, Schutt instead chooses to investigate every aspect of cannibalism from a hard science angle.

He starts the book with a logical question: how common is cannibalism in nature, and if it is far from rare
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting read.... though a bit difficult "to stomach" at times, due to the gruesome contents! Bill Schutt infuses dark humor with fact, relating what is known about cannibalism throughout species, from insects to humans. Being someone who has not eaten meat of any kind for 23 years, I could not help but feel grossed out throughout much of the book. However, I tried to keep an open mind, in spite of my queasy stomach, and found the book to be quite interesting for the most part. My science-lov ...more
K.J. Charles
A very interesting read from a biologist--funny and personal and non-sensationalised. The British title is Eat Me, which is so much better. Takes a very reasonable attitude to cultural variance and non Western attitudes. Even better, the only account of cannibalism that's dwelt on in an anthropological "look at these people like specimens" way is of the peculiar modern cannibal subculture that's developed in the USA, with a description of a middle-class mum serving placenta for dinner. This pass ...more
I kept thinking to myself, "I thought this would be more...meaty."
No, I didn't think that, although I kind of did. I truly did expect this to be more interesting.

Unlike Mary Roach's or Mark Kurlansky's books (with exception to Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, which I couldn't even finish. No, I didn't finish my milk. #allthepuns), I didn't run around telling everyone what I'd just heard while I was listening to this book. Gabe didn't have to suffer listening to me exclaim, out of the blue,
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Goodreads Choice ...: Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History - May 2018 8 65 Jun 26, 2018 04:17PM  
Reading Glasses -...: Week Four - I'm done! 10 102 Feb 24, 2018 12:12PM  
Reading Glasses -...: Week One - Prologue - Chapter 5 2 68 Feb 13, 2018 05:39AM  
Reading Glasses -...: * Reading Schedule 1 155 Jan 28, 2018 08:08AM  
Reading Glasses -...: Week Three - Chapter 11-15 1 26 Jan 28, 2018 08:06AM  

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Bill Schutt is a former professor of biology at LIU-Post and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, he received his B.A. in Biology at C.W. Post, his MA at SUNY Geneseo, and a Ph.D. in Zoology from Cornell University. He has published over two dozen peer-reviewed articles on topics ranging from terrestrial locomotion in vamp ...more

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“Until relatively recently, and with a very few exceptions, cannibalism would have been regarded as anything but normal. As a result, until the last two decades of the 20th century, few scientists spent time studying a topic thought to have little, if any, biological significance. Basically, the party line was that cannibalism, when it did occur, was either the result of starvation to the stresses related to captive conditions. It was as simple as that. Or so we thought.” 3 likes
“In all likelihood, the most significant of these is a heightened chance of acquiring harmful parasites or diseases from a conspecific. Both parasites and pathogens are often species-specific and many of them have evolved mechanisms to defeat their host’s immune defenses. As a result, predators that consume their own kind run a greater risk of picking up a disease or a parasite than do predators that feed solely on other species.” 2 likes
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