Psychologist Hans Askenasy has put together the first comprehensive history of a subject combining violence, horror, and exotic customs. In Part One of his study, Dr. Askenasy gives a historical and geographic overview of humankind's practice of and attitudes toward cannibalism.
Part Two discusses motivational factors for cannibalism, including famines (natural and man-made), survival in extreme situations, magic, ritual, and madness. Among the people and events covered are the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis; the wreckage of the frigate Medusa; the Donner Party; the notorious nineteenth-century "Colorado Man-Eater," Alferd Packer; the Andes plane crash of 1972; Elizabeth Bathory (b. 1560), the "Vampire Lady of the Carpathians"; and Georg Haarmann, who ground up his victims and sold them as potted meat.
In Part Three, "Cannibalism in Culture and Society," Askenasy addresses our continuing fascination with cannibals, man-eating witches, werewolves, and vampires in literature, myth, and the media, ranging from Francis Ford Coppola's film version of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles to the blood curdling events surrounding the cases of Issei Sagawa, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Russian schoolteacher-turned torturer, Andrei Romanovitsch Chikatilo.
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Perhaps not every library has a section on cannibalism, but for those that do--or for those that need one good anthropophagic resource--this is the goods. Askenasy's chronicle examines virtually all conceivable facets of its subject with an air of avid interest if not repressed glee. Like most taboo behaviors, cannibalism has a long practical history. Askenasy presents historic cannibalism as both an act of expediency (as with the infamous Donner party) and a tenet of various religions and cultures, most of which Western culture would term barbaric; and he examines manifestations of cannibalism in other belief systems and practices--the thrust, for instance, of the chapter "Werewolves, Witches, and Vampires." Throughout, Askenasy maintains a scrupulously noncommittal tone regarding the ultimate morality of cannibalism. Although it may offend some squeamish readers, this book is comparable to the Sacher-Masoch diary (whose author's name has partially passed into the sexological vocabulary) as an important illumination of one of the grim, dark corners of human existence. Mike Tribby
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