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Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures Hardcover – October 14, 2008

14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this salmagundi of abstruse science, informative history and engaging personal anecdotes, Schutt's fascination for sanguivores goes a long way toward disarming, while defining, our primal fear of creatures that feed on blood. For all their fearsome rep@utation, only three of 1,100 bat species savor blood, and one of those preys exclusively on chickens. The author doesn't make sanguivores entirely cuddly: part two opens with the horrifying theory that George Washington was likely bled to death by ill-informed doctors and eager leeches, and includes an account of the first dog-to-dog transfusion in 1666 (the first successful human transfusion was in 1901). In part three, Schutt surveys other blood feeders: leeches currently making a comeback in modern medicine, pesky bedbugs and chiggers, and potentially lethal mosquitoes and ticks. One oddity (and typically fascinating tidbit) in the sanguivore world is the vampire finch of the Galapagos, which Schutt theorizes is evolving before scientists' eyes, turning to blood-sipping when other nourishment is in short supply. Passages that focus on the science can be a slog, but are quickly alleviated by sections that are witty and illuminating. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Schutt is a bat biologist who studies the behavior of vampire bats, those famous “blood suckers” of the South American tropics. While studying the three species of vampires, he became interested in the properties of blood itself and of other blood-feeding animals. In a chatty, humorous style, the author first talks of his bat research and the species of vampire bat that will nuzzle its way under a brooding hen to feed on her highly vascularized brood patch. In the second part of the book, Schutt tells of blood itself, its functions in the body and how it is transported by the circulatory system. He describes early medicine and its love of bloodletting, leading to the extensive use of medicinal leeches—a practice that continues today. In the final section, the author introduces us to several other sanguivores,  including chiggers, ticks, and bedbugs. With great scientific accuracy (backed up by extensive notes and a bibliography), text couched in layman’s terms, and a sense of breathless discovery, Schutt will make blood feeding just another choice on the culinary spectrum. --Nancy Bent

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (October 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307381129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307381125
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Schutt was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island with his parents, Bill and Marie Schutt. After graduating from Lindenhurst High School, Bill attended Southampton College for 3 semesters before transferring to C.W. Post College (where he received a BA in Biology). Schutt then attended Geneseo State College where he studied the ectoparasites of the gray squirrel and earned a Master's Degree in Biology.

After spending several years working at the Environmental Protection Agency's Health Effects Research Laboratory (in the Research Triangle Park, N.C.), and two major drug companies (Revlon Health Care Group and Berlex Laboratories), Schutt was accepted into Cornell University's Ph.D. program in Zoology. Under the mentorship of John W. Hermanson, Bill began studying various aspects of anatomy, evolution, and behavior in bats.

Initially, Schutt investigated the passive digital lock, a ratchet-like mechanism that allows some bats to hang for extended periods of time without muscle fatigue. Gradually, Bill became more involved in the study of vampire bats - their anatomy, evolution, behavior, and especially, their ability to move efficiently on the ground. Schutt and undergrad Kim Grant maintained a colony of vampire bats at Cornell University for three years (They'd been captured in Trinidad by vampire bat expert Farouk Muradali and imported by Schutt to the U.S.). Under the supervision of biomechanics expert, John Bertram, Bill and fellow graduate students Dennis Cullinane and Young-Hui Chang built a miniature force platform. With the help of bat expert Scott Altenbach, Schutt and his coworkers used the force platform and hi-speed video to study the forces generated during flight-initiating jumps by the common vampire bat. After graduating with a Ph.D. from Cornell in 1995, Bill taught for three years at Bloomfield College in New Jersey while simultaneously working on a Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at the American Museum of Natural History with bat expert Nancy Simmons.

In 1998, Bill Schutt accepted a faculty position at Southampton College (Long Island University). In 2005, he transferred to his undergraduate alma mater, C.W. Post College, where he is currently an Associate Professor of Biology (teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Evolution, Mammalogy, Vertebrate Paleontology, and Vertebrate Anatomy). Additionally, Bill has maintained his strong ties to the American Museum of Natural History, where he is a Research Associate in the Department of Mammalogy.

Schutt's first book, "Dark Banquet: The Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures" was published by Harmony in 2008 (and is now available in paperback). Bill is currently working on a new book, "You Are What You Eat: A Natural History of Cannibalism" which will examine the phenomenon of cannibalism in nature and among humans.

When he isn't teaching, writing, or doing research, Bill enjoys fishing, swimming, catching his son's nasty two-seam fastball, attending concerts, sporting events, and the theater. Down time is usually spent reading (Christopher Moore and E.O. Wilson are his favorite authors) and watching old movies (especially those starring Humphrey Bogart, Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, and Toshiro Mifune). He's also a huge music fan (e.g., Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, The Smiths, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie). Bill Schutt lives in New York with his wife and son. Readers can learn more about Bill at his website and they can may contact him at

Bill Schutt's literary agent is Elaine Markson, Markson-Throma Literary Agency, 44 Greenwich Ave, New York, New York, 10011. (212) 243-8480.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on October 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Some of the creatures featured in the book are what you'd expect to see--vampire bats, leeches, ticks, etc. Those are the traditional bloodsucking fiends (to borrow a Christopher Moore book title) that we worry about. Other creatures don't pop into mind as readily--bedbugs, mites, and the like--but when described we can nod our heads and say "Yes, Indeed!" or the like. But there are also a couple of chapters on the old practice of bleeding and the newer practice of transfusion. These seem a bit out of place, unless perhaps you consider doctors to be "blood-feeding creatures".

In addition, there's a chapter on the candiru, a small variety of Amazonian catfish. It's interesting, to be sure, and quite funny, but it doesn't seem all that relevant to the book. The candiru attaches itself to the gills of other fishes and scrapes a living. So there's a blood connection, but it's rather peripheral. If you include candiru, why not also include lampreys? Lampreys certainly are blood-feeders, but they aren't in a group that worries us humans--at least not as regards providing a blood meal. Many of the creatures in the book do not feed on humans: there are bird-feeding vampires, for example. But the bird-feeding vampire bats are a member of a family that could feed on humans. I don't recall anything about human victims, but we can certainly provide dinner.

There are some absences: fleas get short shrift here, and I'm not sure why. So you get a mixture in the book--I would have preferred less on medical bleeding and cupping, perhaps more on fleas and some other creatures. There are lots of drawings--but unfortunately, a great many have no captions. There are (usually) explanations in the text, but more captions would be helpful.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on October 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The mention of sanguivores generally evokes a repulsive response from most of us. The subject matter of Dark Banquet is precisely these creatures that stroke our natural fears. The book is not purely a scientific text, but a mélange of science, scientific history and personal anecdotes. The first part takes readers from Trinidad to Brazil, and along the journey, one learns about vampire bats. With over eleven hundred bat species, only three consume blood. One specie, Trinidadian white-winged vampire bat, only feeds on the blood of chickens, and does so by imitating the behavior of chicks to get to its prey).

The second part opens by taking the reader back to George Washington's last days, and suggests that the elder statesman may have bleed to death by doctors employing bloodletting (a common treatment during the day). One learns that bloodletting was common until the early twentieth century! In this section one learns about the role blood plays in our bodies. One is also treated to ancient and modern medical techniques that use blood. Examples of these include using leeches to draw blood in ancient times and using the natural chemicals from these creatures as anti-coagulants (or blood thinners) in contemporary times.

The third part introduces the reader to a host of other sanguivores such as the bed bug, tick, mosquito, chigger, mite, hookworm, assassin bug, vampire finch, and candiru (blood-sucking fish found in the Amazon River). One learns of the diseases they carry (bubonic plague, rabies, scrub typhus, tick vectors) and of the psychological condition "in which the victim believes that tiny biting or bloodsucking creatures are crawling over his or her body.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jason P. Langos on October 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Massively entertaining and educational at the same time! Bill really knows how to paint a picture in your mind of the experiences he has had and blood suckers he has seen. A fun read and highly recommended!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steven Mlodinow on November 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book because I read an excellent excerpt in the news magazine, The Week. That excerpt was from the first and best portion of the book, the part on vampire bats. In that section, which covers the first 95 pages, the author is clearly in his element (he is a mammologist who studies, or has studied vampire bats); Schutt gives a lot of detail on vampire natural history in an accessible and witty manner intertwined with personal tales from his vampire field and laboratory studies. Also included are some interesting tidbits on the interface between vampire bats and myth/sociology. This is all great.

The next chapter is on leeches, and here Schutt wanders off into the wilderness. He tells us precious little about the natural history of leeches and prattles on for 50+ pages about the fixation medicine had with leeches through the centuries. These stories form a hodgepodge with no apparent goal other than trying to be sensational.

After that there is a rapid series on bedbugs, ticks, mites and the such. Some of this is interesting, but again, the book focuses predominately on these animals' effects on human health rather than the animals themselves. Near the end, he entirely gives into the sensational and discusses the Candiru, a group of small catfish that feed off the blood of other fish by attaching to their gills. However, the actual lifestyle of the Candiru is merely an aside in the chapter, which is almost entirely about the myth that these creatures like to ascend varies orifices of the human body. Although I found this bit amusing, I found myself wondering, how did we get from a detailed natural history of vampires to Candiru mythology.
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