Monday, August 14, 2006

Hunger: An Unnatural History

By Sharman Apt Russell.

I decided this looked interesting when I saw it mentioned on The Fanatic Cook (a blog) and got it out of the library.

This is a fascinating book, covering the physical and psychological effects of hunger, but it also takes a dark turn about halfway through, covering starvation and malnutrition, and what's being done (or possibly more often not done) about them. The descriptions of what went on in the midst of World War II are heartbreaking.

What this book doesn't really cover much is the political and social aspects that cause famine. They're mentioned as being the real problem in several cases (e.g., Somalia), as opposed to a simple lack of food, but it doesn't really explain what they are. It does, however, point out our bias towards children in advertising and treating the problem, and asks why we aren't (really) treating the adults who could be growing and distributing more food.

This book is interesting, starting with a description of the biological processes that occur during hunger, and going on to the big picture, but it also offers a challenge. The author confesses:

While in Guatemala, I also went to a few tourist sites, [...] where I easily spent seventy-five dollars many times over. That was my epiphany. I will give money to the woman in Tejar and to organizations like Concern Worldwide. I will help--but only so much, only so far. It is not that I believe these children are less than my own. It is not that I believe I do not have a responsibility for them. It is just that in a world of haves and have-nots, I do not want to give up too much of what I have. I do not want to diminish the complexity and diversity of my life. Instead, I will choose to spend another seventy-five dollars on myself rather than send another child to school, and I will choose to do this over and over again. I no longer think of myself as a good person. I have adjusted to that. (emphasis added)


Amber said...

I find your recent choice in books to be refreshing. What brought about the change? I know you haven't lost interest in fantasy. These books you're reading seem interesting to me, but right now I have my own stack to finish up.

At the moment I'm reading a biography of John Mitchell, the man who founded my school. I like it because my focus isn't on the writing, but on the person the book represents. I'm not reading to be entertained, but to learn. And, because I'm learning about this godly man, I'm also humbled and challenged.

Do you have a bloglines account? There are two people subscribed to your blog. One is me. Is the other one you or someone else? Because if it's someone else, well. That's cool.

Joshua said...

I suppose listening to you prompted the change. However, I have read several other (fantasy) books recently that I'm just not mentioning here (oops), so you aren't seeing the whole picture.

I'm open to reading more non-fiction but it's hard to find stuff that interests me. It's hard to pin down exactly what that means; in this case, Hunger is about something that's obviously applicable to pretty much any reader, but I don't think I would have read it if it was written in a dry manner. The author's style is very engaging and interesting from chapter 1 on (although I'll admit I got a little bit tired halfway through, possibly just because I've been reading so much lately).

On the other hand, back when I was first prompted, I checked out a book on the history of Arab Americans from the new non-fiction section and I just couldn't get past the first couple chapters. It was very anecdotal and personal in nature, at least to start off with, and was written by someone inside the culture rather than from the viewpoint of an interested outsider (like me). I just never got into it.

I haven't yet signed up for bloglines, so the other subscriber is someone else.

Martin LaBar said...

I confess -- I'm the other Bloglines subscriber.

Somehow I missed your review of this book. I need to check it out.