Though it’s less common, 'cannibalism occurs in every class of vertebrates, from fish to mammals,' the affable Schutt reveals, offering one fascinating and bizarre example after another ... Cannibalism is a jolly book, written in a breezy style, but the research behind it is impressive. A biologist with a specialty in the anatomy, evolution and behavior of bats, Schutt draws on scholarly journals and ancient texts, interviews biologists and anthropologists, and ventures into the field himself ... You might think a book on cannibalism would be upsetting, but this one’s not. It’s refreshing. Cannibalism, in fact, restores my faith in humanity: It’s good to know that, as regards this particular behavior, at least, people are no more horrifying than, or as splendidly surprising as, any other species out there.
He balances the inevitable gore with a breezy tone as he writes about entrails, encephalitis, and blue clots in human placenta meat. Schutt’s goal is to understand whether the taboos are hardwired or because of culture and ponders whether circumstances, particularly brought about by climate change, could popularize people eating. He finds, with humor and clarity, that cannibalism is an evolutionary act, one based on stress, reproduction, and survival.
What Bill Schutt does know is that cannibalism makes 'perfect evolutionary sense' for many insects and reptiles while in some mammals, including us, cannibalized brain tissue can kill the eater, transmitting disease and turning the brain into a perforated sponge. The 200 or so pages he devotes to these topics are well-informed and—if one likes contrivedly chatty prose—amusing ... The book also relates abundant examples of how cannibalism inspires ribald evasions in popular culture ... A few passable pages dish up entertaining tidbits on medical uses of human tissue. Similarly the section on survival cannibalism, though disappointingly selective and innocent of most of the relevant scholarship, is accurate as far as it goes ... But Mr. Schutt has done too little preparatory work—too little reading, too little thinking—to undertake the task. He does not understand how cannibalism can be pious as a funerary practice, or socially binding in some systems of exchange, or functional in war.