For starters, let's dispense with the cheap jokes about cannibalism. That means cracks about giving an arm and a leg (sorry) for a good book on the subject, or similar tasteless (sorry again) attempts to make the subject more palatable (last one). The fact is, the gags (really the last one, I promise) that pop up when discussions turn to the consumption of human flesh are defense mechanisms against the train-wreck fascination we have for the subject. When we move beyond the one-liners, though, nonfiction accounts of cannibalism provide a window into the farthest reaches of human nature, from desperate bids for survival to significant — and yes, disturbing — practices of lost cultures.
I came to this topic through a book I was writing about two cultures, one modern, one prehistoric, that stumbled on each other in the most remote part of New Guinea. When I learned that cannibalism was part of the story, and that my research would put me in contact with ex-cannibals, let's just say it whetted my appetite (I lied).
Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.