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On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears Paperback – September 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0199798094 ISBN-10: 0199798095 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199798095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199798094
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Real or imagined, literal or metaphorical, monsters have exerted a dread fascination on the human mind for many centuries. Using philosophical treatises, theological tracts, newspapers, films, and novels, author Stephen T. Asma unpacks traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of our fears and fascinations throughout the ages.

Take a Closer Look at the Mythical Creatures from On Monsters
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Pencil drawing by Stephen T. Asma © 2008, based on a sketch from Edward Topsell’s seventeenth-century bestiary.




Pen and ink drawing by
Stephen T. Asma © 2008.





--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Asma's book zooms in on the subject of monsters, both mythical and real, past, present and future, detailing how they have fascinated and frightened the human imagination through all of recorded time. Conjuring dread, the mind's eye has embraced the Philistine giant Goliath, Grendel, the golem of Jewish lore, Frankenstein's monster, freak shows, monster spectacles and werewolves with equal parts affection and terror, writes Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago. Using varied media sources, from history to legend and literature, Asma studies the symbolic meaning of monsters (e.g., biblical monsters represent arrogance in the face of God's power) and their psychological function. He concludes that humans need an excuse to fight, protect and defend, as well as to transfer those horrific qualities, our own monstrous desires, to inhuman beings. A wide-ranging exploration of fear and evil, Asma's presentation and theories are original and practical, depicting those dark, repulsive notions of an unstable, turbulent world in which everybody must struggle to remain human and civilized. 30 b&w illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Its a compelling and easy read.
Ian
A scholarly treatment of a subject generally neglected by academia, Asma's book is a worthwhile introductory study of monsters.
Steve A. Wiggins
For anyone who seriously wants to study the subject this is an excellent book.
S. LeBlanc

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rourke on November 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
On Monsters takes you down a dark stair into the cellar of the human mind. A place where all that is horrible and inconceivably wicked in the universe scurries about in the shadows ready to leap out upon you from the darkness. Mankind's fascination with, and dread of, monsters is a part of the human experience that stretches back in the past as far as we are able to see. What these ideas are have changed and grown through the centuries in step with the growth of our understanding of the world and our place in it. To the ancients monsters were outside, outside of us and outside the world that the gods had made. Rapacious and insatiable it was up to the great heroes, Beowulf and St. George, to slay them. And to some extent this is still valid today. But by the time of the Greeks people had begun to realize that things were not that simple. There could be human monsters too, Medea serving her children for supper.

Dr. Asma undertakes to lead you through the entire conceptual history of monsters. A compendium of monsterology beginning with Alexander and his battle with monsters in India on up to the present, every type of monster is given its turn. As our understanding of monsters develops you can see the monsters evolving. The cyclops of the ancients, the witches of the medieval church, the physical mutants of science, the Frankenstein's monster and the werewolves of popular culture, the Hitler's, the John Wayne Gracie's and the monsters of our own psyche. What they are and how they are understood in today's world the understanding of monsters is not simple and has simple answers. Perhaps this is the lesson of the whole book for in the end the monster's are within us all. And if we are ever to control them it is here that they must be faced. This book will give you some fresh insights into some of the darker recesses of the human mind which in turn gives one a better understanding of how you can control them in your own life.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By joyful VINE VOICE on December 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears by Stephen Asma attempts to answer this question from a wide range of fascinating perspectives.

Asma begins with the origin of the word monster: "Monster derives from the Latin word monstrum, which in turn derives from the root monere (to warn). To be a monser is to be an omen." From there, Asma explores symbolic and literal monsters, the perception of monsters throughout history to the present day as well as their role in the future.

Asma's overall definition of what has been perceived as monsters is broad, encompassing mythological ones such as griffins and manticores to serial killers like John Wayne Gacy. Asma even delves into horror movies or "torture porn," such as Hostel.

The Loch Ness Monster is mentioned briefly a couple of times. Bigfoot doesn't make an appearance at all. This isn't that kind of book.

Instead, Asma explores all the facets and connotations of the monstrous:

As detailed in the ancient histories of Pliny and Herodotus
-Greek mythology
-as archetypes
-Modern-day criminal monsters
-Future monsters
-literary monsters such as Grendel and Frankenstein's creature
-Biblical monsters
-psychological
-biological: mutants
-historical
-cultural
-medical
-scientific

In chronicling the role of monsters throughout history, Asma lists some idiotic, once widely-held beliefs.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cultural_Artifacts on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"On Monsters" is written in a conversational style that is easy and pleasant to follow. Facts and ideas are arranged in logical ways that build on each other so as the reader accumulates the information, he or she is also zooming along with that unique pleasure that comes from reading a book that truly engages one's mind. I never felt I was reading a textbook, but each paragraph made me hungry for the next in such a way that I consumed the book and finished with a great sigh of satisfaction. I have read other books on "monsters", but this one, while building from a familiar starting place, added insights and new information peppered throughout enough to add to my knowledge and entertain me for a couple of nights. I enjoyed it so much I am going to read the Author's other books. Who can resist the title, "The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha"? That's the next one for me.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By H. Campbell on June 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Asma's book is valuable from many perspectives, but especially so with regards to the psychology of "monsterology." His comments about Freud's theory of the Uncanny, the familiar-foreign dichotomy that evokes curiosity, trepidation and fear, is an example of Asma's observations about the ambiguous nature of terror. Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman scare us because they are like us but at the same time not us, a near-familiar limbo that confuses and disorients. Similarly, he observes that CGI cartoon figures that are humanoid but clearly not human can entertain us, until the imagery enters a murky nether region of human-likeness imagery, where the distinction between a real human and a faux computer duplicate is difficult to make. Again, the "near-not near" aspect creeps us out in the same manner as the once-human monsters of lore did with their similarities to us. The change in attitude towards monsters, from biological anomalies to moral degenerates, reflects the cultural attitudes of a society where the secular world's judgements outweigh those of the religious. To be sure, the medieval church appropriated monsters for instructional as well as terrorizing purposes; the Devil, of course, was their favorite pew-filling bogeyman, while witches, Jews and Muslims also made credible near-not near monsters. But with the wane of this influence, "enlightened" civilization created a whole new spectrum of monsters. Interestingly, the first Cold War sci fi flicks leaned heavily on the humanoid monster as its principle scaremonger. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" personified the Uncanny aspects of like-not like terror with is podpeople quasi-duplicates, a not so subtle metaphor for America's Red Scare hysteria over commie monsters disguised as red blooded Americans.
Asma's book is a must read for anyone interested in how human psychology, culture and religion interact synergistically to create imageries of terror.
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More About the Author

Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he holds the title of Distinguished Scholar.

Asma is the author of seven books, including "Against Fairness" (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2012), "On Monsters: an Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears" (Oxford Univ. Press), "Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads" (Oxford Univ. Press), "The Gods Drink Whiskey" (HarperOne), and the best selling "Buddha for Beginners" (originally published in 1996 and reissued in 2008). His writing has been translated into German, Spanish, Hebrew, Czech, Romanian, Hindi, Portuguese, and Chinese.

Asma has written for the New York Times, the Sunday Times, the Daily Beast, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, the Fortnightly Review, and Skeptic magazine.

Dr. Asma is a founding Fellow of the "Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture" at Columbia College Chicago. The Research Group is actively working on a philosophical and scientific understanding of the mind/brain that properly incorporates the emotional dimensions of mammalian consciousness.

In addition to Western philosophy, Asma has an abiding interest in Buddhism and Confucianism. In 2003, he was Visiting Professor at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, teaching a "Buddhist Philosophy" seminar course as part of their Graduate Program in Buddhist Studies. In addition to Cambodia, he has also researched Asian philosophies in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Laos. He has also lived and studied in Shanghai China.

Asma has lectured at Harvard, Brown University, the Field Museum, the Newberry Library, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and many more.

His website is: www.stephenasma.com

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