cover image Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

Bill Schutt. Algonquin, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61620-462-4

In this comprehensive account of a taboo practice, Schutt (Dark Banquet), professor of biology at LIU-Post, finds that cannibalism is more widespread than generally believed and proffers insight as to why different species resort to the practice of cannibalism, with plenty of scientific evidence to support his conclusions. Schutt covers the commonly known cannibalistic practices found among tadpoles, chimpanzees, sand tiger sharks, and polar bears, but the real intrigue is found in his descriptions of lesser-known instances of cannibalism in humans that have been actively struck from history, including during the 1941 siege of Leningrad and the medicinal cannibalism practiced by a range of European and Chinese rulers. Schutt cites starvation, overcrowding, and even global warming as reasons that humans and animals have turned to cannibalism. Depending on the culture, cannibalism has also been practiced as a learned behavior, as filial piety, as a form of luxurious indulgence, as a funerary ritual, and even as a mood stabilizer. With plenty of examples of cannibalism in humans past and present, Schutt’s well researched and suspenseful work is a must read for anyone who’s interested in the topic—and can stomach the gore. Illus. by Patricia J. Wynne. Agent: Gillian MacKenzie, Gillian MacKenzie Agency. (Feb.)