Cannibalism 101: The Must-Reads

Cannibalism 101: The Must-Reads


There are few things as horrifying (or as taboo!) as cannibalism. Different books address the practice in different ways: There are nonfiction accounts of cannibalism necessitated by survival, goofy mysteries, and dark accounts of serial killers (both real and imagined) sating their highly unconventional appetites. They’re all different but they also all have one big thing in common: These books give new meaning to the word “omnivore.”

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    1. Chew

    John Layman and Rob Guillory’s landmark comic book series follows the adventures of poor Tony Chu, an FDA agent who is also a cibopath. This means that Chu gets psychic impressions from the things that he eats, allowing him to know more about their history (which, when he’s solving a crime, is pretty useful). In the case of a homicide, the solution is obvious but also pretty gruesome. While on the surface Chew’s inventive premise appears to be a lighthearted depiction of cannibalism, Tony’s later adventures tap into the inherent darkness of eating human flesh.

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    2. The Road

    This Pulitzer-winning post-apocalyptic novel finds a father and son making their way to the coast, although it is unclear what they believe awaits them there. This duo, two of “the good guys,” encounters all manner of atrocities on their trek, including men turned desperate from the food shortage. Carrying one gun with two rounds between them, the father instructs the son to use the gun on himself if necessary to avoid suffering at the hands of cannibals.

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    3. Alive

    This harrowing survival tale shares the true story of the Uruguayan rugby team’s disastrous trip in 1972, when their flight crashed into the side of a mountain in the Andes. Survivors were stranded for 10 weeks, the players resorted to cannibalism in order to stay alive. While some accounts of cannibalism are motivated by fetishes or obsession, this book focuses on it for another reason entirely: survival.

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    4. Cannibal

    Maybe you’ve heard of the maneater of Rotenburg: Armin Meiwes, who found a willing victim on the Internet and ate him. Lois Jones wrote this story detailing how the two men had dreamt all of their lives of partaking in something like this, and Jones recounts the incident in excruciating detail. Potential readers should be warned: This book contains incredibly graphic and disturbing descriptions of cannibalism, including a particularly horrific slaughter scene. Jones also provides a fair amount of context so that the reader might better understand (at least, as much as is possible in a case like this) what was going on in Meiwes’ head at the time.

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    5. Exquisite Corpse

    This horror novel by Poppy Z. Brite follows two cannibalistic serial killers (and their respective victims) that cross paths and begin a romantic relationship in New Orleans in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Underlying the obvious horror associated with reading about human beings killing and, um, consuming one another, there’s the equally sinister threat of HIV, too. This book isn’t for the squeamish, but many consider it to be a must-read if gory horror reads are your thing.

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    6. The Silence of the Lambs

    Ah, the classic. The Silence of the Lambs is arguably one of the most famous novels to deal with cannibalism. Hannibal Lecter certainly lives on in the public imagination decades after the book’s publication, both in the classic film and the NBC series with its rabid online fanbase. This thriller opens when FBI trainee Clarice Starling is given an assignment: to question Lecter (a serial killer and known cannibal) who is serving time in a mental institution, in hopes that it will shed light on a case involving another serial killer, Buffalo Bill. What ensues is equal parts gripping and horrifying, and has helped to ensure that the book remains a favorite in the thriller genre.


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