Book Review: The Last Snake Man by John Cann

Book Review: The Last Snake Man, by John Cann with Jimmy Thomson

Every Sunday for almost a century, John Cann’s family ran the famous snake show in a pit at La Perouse. This is the memoir of the last of those snake men.


If you know the iceberg analogy that what’s seen is just a small part of what’s happening beneath the surface, then you’ve got an idea already of John Cann’s surprisingly full and eclectic life. From snake handling to Olympic athlete and sporting champion, adventurer and discoverer of new turtle species… the title of his memoir does not do his story justice.

Born to a snake-handling father, who Cann refers to as The Last Snake Man, John Cann would also become the last in his family line of snake handlers when he retired in 2010.

His autobiography traces his life from early childhood to retirement with a large portion of the first half focussing on his early sporting achievements which included rugby, boxing and decathlon. It moves into his years as a snake handling showman, and the life that entailed, before evolving into his current passion for turtles which has lead to Cann discovering and/or naming several new species or subspecies.

This is not Cann’s first book and his previous publication on snake handling, called Snakes Alive, is quoted in depth in the final chapters when Cann pays homage to a number of other notable snake handlers – providing a glimpse into both their life and death.

Cann’s style is an easy read and he lays out his story clearly, cross-referencing himself a number of times. For those with a curiosity for the side-show spectacle of snake handling, the book is a disappointment in that much of it is about the other aspects of Cann’s life. His reminiscens are fascinating adventures however, so those more open to learning more about the man behind the reputation should find The Last Snake Man something of a revelation about early 20th Century Australia and the famous Cann clan.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Rating out of 10:  8

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: February 2018
RRP: $32.99 paperback

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