The modern media bombards viewers and readers with an image of Super-Action History, that period when everything was always exploding in slow motion and everyone was covered in filth. Popular history books are written to spark controversy in hopes that this will lead to sales. Ah, for the old days, when dignified dons issued thoughtful examinations of the works of the ancients —
Well, you know how publishers are always slapping crazy lurid covers on perfectly respectable books, maybe it’s like that …
… well, kinda.
What author Garry Hogg appears to have done is an old pop-anthropology trick. He’s taken most of his info from various travel accounts, missionaries’ memoirs, and so on, and presents them with a pretty even-handed tone. So there’s a contrast between Hogg’s tone and the excitable tone of his sources. But he also writes things like this:
Broadly speaking, however, anthropologists are agreed that where cannibalism exists as a long-established feature of the social life of a community … it originated in one or other of several distinct forms. It may be connected with religious ceremonial; it may have magical significance; it may be the ultimate result of a temporary and unwelcome farinaceous diet which led to experimenting with human flesh as food. This last would be a catastrophic form of experiment, for it has been widely found that when the taste for human flesh is once indulged, such taste quickly develops into a fierce and eventually unappeasable lust for flesh which no mere animal flesh can ever satisfy; thus the stages of degradation in gluttony succeed one another inexorably.
Now, I suppose I have some kind of tribal obligation to sneer at anthropologists or something, but I am almost certain they don’t say things like “thus the stages of degradation in gluttony succeed one another inexorably.” I’m also pretty sure that anthropological research on cannibalism suggests that it’s often part of very complicated kinship or other social structures, rather than a diabolical hankering for vittles ye cain’t raise nor buy.
Anyway. The other cool part of this story is that there is a bookseller near my house. It isn’t usually open to the public, I don’t think, since it mainly does book fairs and online sales. They had an open weekend on Saturday, and I went along. Lots of discounts. I grabbed up some bargain books, and was about to leave when I saw this lurid little paperback for £1.50, so I grabbed it as well. When I took it up to the till, he gave it to me for free with the other books I was buying. So that was pretty cool. If there is another open day, I’ll definitely be back.
And another trashy post-war paperback goes on the shelves to be pulled out in some future hour of need.