In Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, zoologist Bill Schutt looks at cannibalism from an evolutionary standpoint and finds that there are times when eating members of one’s own species makes a certain amount of sense. Cannibalism is a common behavior at every level of the food chain; invertebrates eat their relatives because they have no way of recognizing which organisms belong to their own kind and which do not. Vertebrates are more likely to engage in cannibalism when threatened with starvation or other environmental stressors. There is evidence of humans performing ritual cannibalism for a variety of reasons, but often accounts of people eating people are distorted or exaggerated.
Schutt is indefatigable in his pursuit of his subject. He examines the historical and anthropological records, interviews academic experts, and even, in the name of science, chows down on a cooked human placenta. He avoids sensationalism and does a good job of explaining the role of cannibalism in the animal world. As he says, it’s “perfectly natural”. Recommended for science-minded readers. Find it in our catalog here.