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, Psychology, Philosophy, Fantasy, Mythology

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...
  • Robin Bonne
    This started out strong, but reading it in 2018, nine years after publication, some of the conclusions the author draws about gender seem dated.
  • 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...
  • Jess
    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...
  • leo
    bleh. i started this book expecting to enjoy it, because the cultural history of the monstrous is a rich field, but even though asma's got some good anecdotes he keeps throwing in weird gender-essentialist comments, lets a lot of loaded and biased statements about islam go unchallenged in the later third or so of the book (which is the weakest), is wildly insensitive about intersex people, doesn't actually discuss the place of ableism in concepts...
  • Shelly
    I really wanted to like this book as the premise and the topic are great. However, the author began to lose me when he went on a totally unnecessary side bar about how men just have this protective instinct that women don't have and they can't escape (sorry....have you seem a Momma bear)? But I have sloughed through casual sexism for good content and information before. So I persisted.However, a relatively uncritical chapter on hermaphrodites as ...
  • 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.
  • Derek Kubilus
    This is my favorite book from 2018. A fantastic journey through the evolution of what it means for something or someone to be a "monster." Delving into history, religion, psychology, race-relations, politics, and so much, Asma has written a truly great book that anyone who thinks deeply can appreciate, whether you're a fan of horror or not.
  • 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.
  • Tânia
    If you are interested on or study monsters then this book is for your. It discusses monsters and how the view of the monstrous has changed throughout the centuries.
  • Melumebelle
    Full review to come!
  • Natacha Guyot
    A solid overview of the history of monsters (mostly in the West). There were missed opportunities on discussing women, and sadly the usual Freudian framework permeated latter sections of the book.
  • 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.