On Monsters by Stephen T. Asma

On Monsters

Hailed as "a feast" (Washington Post) and "a modern-day bestiary" (The New Yorker), Stephen Asma's On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters--how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future. Beginning at the time of Alexander the Great, the monsters come fast and furious--Behemoth and Leviathan, Gog and Magog, Satan and his demons, Grend...

Details On Monsters

TitleOn Monsters
Release DateOct 1st, 2009
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
GenreNonfiction, History, Horror, Philosophy, Psychology, Science

Reviews On Monsters

  • Will Byrnes
    Asma takes us on a stroll down horror lane, from monsters of our imagination to those of a more concrete origin. Are monsters merely what is different, unknown, upsetting? How has our view of the monstrous changed over time? What was once considered monstrous is now often considered merely anomalous. What was once thought the creation of Satan is now seen as genetic damage or diversity. And why is it that people across cultures and history are so...
  • Zach
    My mom has been "in the process" of turning my old bedroom into a sewing room for about 10 years now. To that end, I get a lot of stuff dumped on me from time to time because she's cleaning out the closet (I think mostly just so new crap can be kept in that room). I'm sorry, not dumped-returned to me, or handed down to the grandkids, or whatever. Legacy stuff. Lots of comic books, lots of books like this:[image error]We also found, on our last vi...
  • Theodora Goss
    I should have rated this book ages ago because I used it for my doctoral dissertation and now teach a class in which it's central. It's SO good! It's thoroughly scholarly, but also a fun read--clearly and engagingly written. It's the best scholarly book I've found on monsters, going through all the eras and ideas about monstrosity in a systematic way. Thank you, Stephen Asma! I found your book both enjoyable (even through the gruesome bits) and i...
  • Christy
    I am so disappointed in this book. Not only is not what I expected when I ordered it but it is bad. It rambles, lacks a clear argument, reiterates a lot of stuff that is already widely available elsewhere, sets up straw man arguments about postmodernism (which seems rather off-topic for a book about monsters), includes way too many endnotes that distract from the main body of the text, lacks a cohesive style or tone (sometimes condescending and o...
  • Chris
    Three stars for the first half of the book; two stars for the second.The first part of the book is intersting. It is look at how people viewed or defined monsters at various points. Asma then moves into the changing view of monsters. The second half (more like the last 1/3) seems to ramble. It feels like little more than a list and obvious statements about mass media. He almost seems to go off topic and wants to avoid offending anyone. It isn't b...
  • Hudson
    Stopped reading at page 7 after I read this:Over and over again one hears the same story of torturers: whether Nazis, Pinochet lackeys, American soldiers at Abu Ghraib or Khmer Rouge teenagers at S21...."Comparing the actions of soldiers at Abu Ghraib with the actions of the Nazis?????? And no mention of Japanese atrocities against the Chinese or any number of examples that would have been more appropriate???Fuck you and your anti American bias A...
  • Kevin
    Reviews of this are all over the place. Some people are disappointed because it wasn't an encyclopedia of mythical creatures; others are disappointed because it wasn't deep and insightful and philosophical enough. I think it strikes a fascinating and fun balance. It does begin by telling some interesting legends and reports from ancient times, like the monsters Alexander the Great was recorded to have faced while in India or the weird stories of ...
  • Woowott
    I was quite excited about this book. I waited a while to plunk down money for it. But, sadly, it wasn't really what I thought it would be, nor was it as engaging as I hoped. It was not slyly and cleverly written, as reviews on the back intimated. It was not a feast. It was difficult to slog through, actually. It was uneven and unfocused. And whilst he decided to summarize Beowulf and Blade Runner and make inaccurate assessments of certain aspects...
  • peaseblossom
    Not very insightful or interesting if you're already familiar with the subject. Wanted more about monstrous institutions. Wanted much less evo-psych and manly men.
  • Vanessa
    I'm really torn about this book. It was fascinating overall, and I've amassed a whole list of further reading thanks to Asma, but a fair amount of the book (especially toward second half or so) seems to fall a little flat. The conversation about how we define monsters was really interesting, as was the discussion of ancient monsters (I'd never heard of the Blemmyae and I never knew that Saint Christopher is sometimes depicted as having a dog's he...
  • Caitlin O'Sullivan
    Asma has collected and given perspective to an interesting collection of monster history and psychology in On Monsters. It's generally an interesting and informative read for both monster experts and monster novices. He doesn't seem to have quite decided whether his audience is academic or popular, sliding back and forth between formal academic language and informal discourse. (The latter is dominant in the beginning of the book, while the former...
  • C. Varn
    Asma's history is fascinating in the first section of the book, which is more of a literal history of the development and conception of the predominant idea of "monsters" in the (mostly) European world. This portion of the book is strong and the sociological information Asma lays out matches the history. Sadly, the second section, loses focus. It dwells in the moment world and mostly a series of reflections on the ideas of monster with various (s...
  • Caleb
    This is a remarkably well-researched, thoroughly engaging and awfully thought-provoking (Western) cultural history of the concept of the "monster," in all its myriad forms—mythical and legendary monsters, malformed birth-defect created monsters, religious monsters, criminal monsters, symbolic monsters and so on. Asma covers a lot of very specific subjects while keeping the overall focus of the book on the conceptual level. That's no mean feat, ...
  • Paul
    Less an individual history of famous monsters and creatures of folklore, but more a history of the monster and the monstrous. Asma does a particularly nice job linking social morays and beliefs with our need to create "the other" throughout the history of civilization. Highly recommended for monster and social philosophy geeks alike.
  • Miriam
    Herakles bekämpft im antiken Griechenland die mehrköpfige Hydra. Beowulf legt sich mit dem Monster Grendel an. Die Kirche sieht sich im Mittelalter von Häretikern und Hexen der übelsten Sorte bedroht. Das Unmenschliche, das Fremdartige, das Missratene – eben das Monster – ruft im Menschen ambivalente Gefühle von Faszination und Abscheu hervor. Grund genug für Stephen T. Asma, sich mit der Geschichte des Monströsen zu befassen.Für Asma...
  • Jennifer
    If you can judge a man by his enemies, then you can judge a society by its monsters.That, in a nutshell, is the supposition of Stephen Asma's On Monsters, which takes the reader by the hand and leads them through the darkness of human imagination and the nightmares the sleep of reason breeds. Starting with the ancient world - by which we mean the ancient Western world - and moving up through the present and future, Asma unpacks the rise and fall ...
  • Alysia
    I love monsters, I always have. But it never occurred to me to ever look into the history of what makes a monster a monster. Believe it or not, learning about why human beings have been scared of the same things since the dawn of time is not boring at all.Thankfully, On Monsters was a nonfiction book that was easy to read and comprehend. Some of the terms/words could be a bit complicated but context helped. The book is organized into a timeline f...
  • Daniel
    I'd never have read this book if it weren't required of me for a class. That said, I rather enjoyed parts of it. Asma does an amazing job of creating a modern bestiary, which creatively spans the ancient to the futuristic. He utilizes relatable anecdotes and fantastical stories to complement his unmatched research into the subject material. The greatest shortcoming of the book is Asma's tendency to frequently digress, going on tangents that are b...
  • Megan
    An interesting and well researched book which is unfortunately hampered by the last few chapters. Asma detours from his previous tone into several poorly-thought-out and, honestly, misplaced discussions of terrorism, biotechnology, and postmodernisn. When Asma sticks to the facts, it's a great book. When he inserts his obnoxious and distracting personal opinions, the book thuds.
  • h.a. eugene
    There’s a general Western-world focus in this book that I wasn’t certain I understood going into it, but it’s not the end of the world. I still enjoyed it. I wouldn’t kick it out of bed.* For a specifically U.S. perspective on the topic of monsters, also check out Monsters in America, by W. Scott Poole.
  • Sergio
    It was ok. The writer is clearly more interested in certain eras and when he speaks about Medieval Church time does so vaguely and leads me to want to investigate as I seriously questioned his understandings. All in all fascinating but was lacking.
  • Jeremy Cope
    Extremely well researched, sweeping discussion of the idea of monsters. Engaging and approachable. Good stuff.
  • Courtney Bassett
    3.5 stars.The first half of this book, which covers medieval Christians and demonology, was much more interesting than the last half, which waffles on about serial killers and terrorists.
  • E
    On Monsters is a genre-straddling volume that seeks to answer the questions: how has Western civilization defined the monster over the past two millennia, and how does this definition correlate to historical paradigms? These queries are perhaps too large for one text to answer, but Asma provides a well-researched précis of monsters in ancient philosophical texts and mythology, monsters in theology, the monsters of 18th and 19th Century natural h...
  • Neil White
    A book on monsters... or, how I learned to stop worrying and love scholarly research. Because, that's exactly what this is. The one caveat I would give this book, (and it's a big one) is that this is NOT an easy read. With the title and subject matter, it would be easy to either write this off or pick this up thinking it's a grim bestiary on the history of freaks, demons and witches. While Asma does touch on these at several points, make no mista...
  • Robb Bridson
    This is a tough book to read. It was interesting, frustrating, sometimes entertaining, often meandering, and ultimately kind of pointless.This is a philosophical survey over Western history of the concept (or maybe "concepts" of "monsters." This includes mythical monster races and species, supernatural monsters, freaks, evil people, and abstract fears/dark emotions.It starts off pretty strong and gets weaker as it goes along, hitting its low-poin...
  • Justin
    Imagine you're at a library/book store, and you decide to pick up a biography about someone whom you find really interesting. You take the book home, and it's all well and good for about the first hundred pages...then suddenly it turns into a sociology textbook. That's what reading On Monsters felt like, except instead of an exploration of a person, it was supposed to be an exploration of monsters, and in addition to sociology, it dove headlong i...
  • Matthew
    This is a quirky, interesting book that tends to ramble, but remains entertaining and in places even thought provoking.We start with the Biblical Leviathan and Behemoth, moving on to some monsters of classical antiquity, mythical races like the Cyclops. Asma treats us to some peculiar and charming tidbits, like the fact that St. Christopher, usually represented in the West carrying the Christ-Child, is sometimes depicted in Eastern iconography as...
  • Allison O'Toole
    While Asma has some interesting ideas, they're lessened by the book's lack on central thesis, large sections where the connection to monsters is tangential at best (most of the middle section on science), and weirdly aggressive bouts of sexism - he argues that monster-killers are men because of the male instinct to protect, doesn't really allow the possibility that sexism could have played a hand in the medieval witch hunts, and unnecessarily dis...
  • Jesse
    A decent romp through a history of humanity's darker imagination, touching on a fair number of relevant subjects: mythical beasts, Christian demons and evil spirits, ghosts, violent pathological characters, and mere humans taken to be exotic or "unnatural." The prose style is lucid and the author makes an admirable effort to order, highlight, and illuminate his research.The downside of such a broad survey: the whole thing reads like a lot of info...