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Hunger: An Unnatural History

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Every day, we wake up hungry. Every day, we break our fast. Hunger explores the range of this primal experience. Sharman Apt Russell, the highly acclaimed author of Anatomy of a Rose and An Obsession with Butterflies, here takes us on a tour of hunger, from eighteen hours without food to thirty-six hours to seven days and beyond. What Russell finds-both in our bodies and i Every day, we wake up hungry. Every day, we break our fast. Hunger explores the range of this primal experience. Sharman Apt Russell, the highly acclaimed author of Anatomy of a Rose and An Obsession with Butterflies, here takes us on a tour of hunger, from eighteen hours without food to thirty-six hours to seven days and beyond. What Russell finds-both in our bodies and in cultures around the world-is extraordinary. It is a biological process that transcends nature to shape the very of fabric of societies. In a fascinating survey of centuries of thought on hunger's unique power, she discovers an ability to adapt to it that is nothing short of miraculous. From the fasting saints of the early Christian church to activists like Mahatma Gandhi, generations have used hunger to make spiritual and political statements. Russell highlights these remarkable cases where hunger can inspire and even heal, but she also addresses the devastating impact of starvation on cultures around the world today. Written with consummate skill, a compassionate heart, and stocked with facts, figures, and fascinating lore, Hunger is an inspiring window on history and the human spirit.


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Every day, we wake up hungry. Every day, we break our fast. Hunger explores the range of this primal experience. Sharman Apt Russell, the highly acclaimed author of Anatomy of a Rose and An Obsession with Butterflies, here takes us on a tour of hunger, from eighteen hours without food to thirty-six hours to seven days and beyond. What Russell finds-both in our bodies and i Every day, we wake up hungry. Every day, we break our fast. Hunger explores the range of this primal experience. Sharman Apt Russell, the highly acclaimed author of Anatomy of a Rose and An Obsession with Butterflies, here takes us on a tour of hunger, from eighteen hours without food to thirty-six hours to seven days and beyond. What Russell finds-both in our bodies and in cultures around the world-is extraordinary. It is a biological process that transcends nature to shape the very of fabric of societies. In a fascinating survey of centuries of thought on hunger's unique power, she discovers an ability to adapt to it that is nothing short of miraculous. From the fasting saints of the early Christian church to activists like Mahatma Gandhi, generations have used hunger to make spiritual and political statements. Russell highlights these remarkable cases where hunger can inspire and even heal, but she also addresses the devastating impact of starvation on cultures around the world today. Written with consummate skill, a compassionate heart, and stocked with facts, figures, and fascinating lore, Hunger is an inspiring window on history and the human spirit.

30 review for Hunger: An Unnatural History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    Another depressing book, though this time I have no excuse. I can't remember how I had this recommended to me, though I suspect it was through the Guardian's books pages. This is a well-written exploration of the biology and sociology of hunger: what happens as you go without food for a day, a week, a month; and some socially constructed mass starvations from the Warsaw Ghetto to Ethiopa via Mahatma Gandhi. Takeaways are as follows. Chapter 1: "hunger artists" are performance artists who work in t Another depressing book, though this time I have no excuse. I can't remember how I had this recommended to me, though I suspect it was through the Guardian's books pages. This is a well-written exploration of the biology and sociology of hunger: what happens as you go without food for a day, a week, a month; and some socially constructed mass starvations from the Warsaw Ghetto to Ethiopa via Mahatma Gandhi. Takeaways are as follows. Chapter 1: "hunger artists" are performance artists who work in the medium of hunger. Giovanni Succi, who fasted professionally over thirty times in all the major capitals of Europe. Succi believed himself possessed by a benign spirit, which enabled him to live without food. Between shows, he was quietly and regularly admitted into the insane asylum. On December 21, 1890, in New York, the Daily Tribute described how he broke a forty-five day fast .... The magnitudes of historic famines boggle my mind. Some four thousand years ago, an inscription on the tomb of the Egyptian Anktifi read, "All of upper Egypt was dying of hunger to such a degree that everyone had come to eating his children." Two-thirds of the population of Italy starved to death in 1347. A potato fungus triggered the Great Hunger of Ireland in 1845-50, which killed a million people [...]. Seven million people died in 1919-21 from a famine in the Ukraine and southwestern Russia. Four million died in the Bengal famine of 1943-44. The largest known famine killed over thirty million Chinese from 1958-62. Chapter 2: a few hours of hunger. "Paradoxical as it may seem," Gershon writes, "the gut is a tunnel that permits the exterior to run right through us. Whatever is in the lumen of the gut is actually outside of our bodies." Grehlin is made by the stomach and is the "Please, sir, can I have more gruel?" hormone. Leptin is made by fat cells and is implicated in feeling sated. We are glad not to be in charge. We welcome the body's competence even as we are intimidated by it. As Lewis Thomas wrote, "If I were informed tomorrow that I was in direct communication with my liver, and could now take over, I would become deeply depressed. I'd sooner be told, forty thousand feet over Denver, that the 747 jet in which I had a coach seat was now mine to operate .... I am unconstitutionally unable to make hepatic decisions and prefer not to be obliged to, ever." (Hepatic = to do with the liver) Borborygmus is the onomatopoeia for the increased activity of the intestines as they squeeze every bit of old material through, all the way to the rectum, causing the collision of water and air pockets, bubbles, and gurgles. Chapter 3: more than a day of hunger. The body is complex: attempts to mess with leptin and grehlin were met with side-effects as the body uses every signal for multiple purposes. America is full of hunger at this scale: adults who skip meals so their kids can eat because there isn't enough money for both. While many Americans deny the existence of hunger in this country, others question the solution: if we give food away, if food is a basic right, what will motivate people to go out and work? Unless you are living in the nineteenth century, the argument falls apart when you are faced with a six-year-old child. The director of the school backpack program shows me a drawing [...] "This is a man," the child said [...], "who is angry because he just wants food." Chapter 4: a week of hunger. On the third day, ketosis kicks in. Since the 1920s, severely epileptic children have been given lots of fat and not much protein or carbohydrates, a diet that induces ketosis and inhibits their seizures. Religions make fasts sacred. Catherine of Siena eventually died of self-starvation; throughout her short life, her fasting was an offering received by her church with ambivalence. Fraudulent fasters. Blood pressure drops, falls and dizziness and confusion common. Chapter 5: a month of hunger. History of people who fast for a month for health, though most early studies were about negative consequences of fasting. Fasting was also a non-consumptive therapy that did not lead to the creation of any new drug or product. Author ticks off many positive stories about fasting's health benefits: Other studies have connected fasting with the successful treatment of protozoan parasites, duodenal ulcers, high blood pressure, and diabetes. [...] Most of the proof is anecdotal. Fasting ends and starvation begins when the stored reserves are used up or have dropped dangerously low. Expensive supervised-fasting clinics. People on a calorie-restricted diet get hungry, maybe a little cranky, maybe a little controlling. Chapter 6: Hunger strikes. Suffragettes were force fed, which was like rape. Gandhi said you can only use hunger strikes to influence people who love you. When India was made independent, he influenced the process with his hunger strikes and made the breakup more just. (This is an area I want to read more in) Belfast IRA hunger strikes: multiple men starving themselves to death in the 70s, peer pressure (couldn't be the weak one), some families requested forced feeding once their hunger-striking relatives went into a coma. This is always described as "medical intervention" not as "force feeding". Chapter 7: Warsaw Ghetto history--fucking appalling. Why weren't we taught *this* in high school social studies instead of bloody feudalism? Some doctors on the inside turned it into a scientific study: testing interventions, documenting declines. They smuggled the documentation out. Almost all (as in 99%ish) died as the Nazis went from corralling and starving to active extermination. This was an incredible chapter, revelatory, agonisingly sad, humbling. Chapter 8: The Minnesota Experiment. The USA starved some conscientious objectors (who volunteered for this, glad to be able to do something for the war) and then refed them to see how best to start refeeding all these starving Europeans. During the course of the starvation, the volunteers went from active to apathetic, they became grouchy, withdrawn, sullen, and several times psychotic. They had long-term medical consequences, and often ballooned to being massively overweight once they were able to eat freely again. Chapter 9: Anthropologists have explored hunger around the world. Weird patterns of hoarding or secret gorging around seasonal food. Colin Turnbull studied the Ik people of Africa (near northern border of Kenya and Uganda) whose response to long-term hunger involved abandoning social relationships and institutions, even familial ones. [...] With reluctance and anger, a mother nursed her child for the first two years. In the third year, the toddler was weaned, a deliberate breaking of emotional and physical bonds that, Turnbull wrote, "seemed excessive and brutal at times." [...] At three years of age, children were thrown out of the house, allowed only to sleep in the outside compound. On their own, without food or shelter, they joined a gang of other children whose ages went up to seven or eight. If they survived the next few years through foraging or stealing from the fields and gardens, they joined a second gang of older children." Lots of grimness in Turnbull's portrayal, but he got bollocked later for lack of empathy. Anthropologist Robert Dirk looked at large-scale social responses to food shortage and described three common phases. Once the threat is noticed, there is general alarm. People are excited and may become more gregarious. They may share more, setting up such things as communal kitchens. They may migrate. Emotions increase. There is irritability and anger, political unrest, possible rioting, and looting. There may be more religious ritual, increased devotion, and mystical acts. In the second stage, resistance is directed against the hunger itself, as opposed to its cause. People conserve energy rather than expend it. They are less social, their actions focused on obtaining food. Small, closed groups, such as the family unit, become the most effective way to survive. Friends and extended family may need to be excluded. Stealing is common. Organized political work diminishes, although there may be random acts of aggression and violence. In this social disorder, people turn more trustingly to authority. [...] The last phase is marked by a collapse of all cooperative efforts, even within the family. This can happen gradually. The elderly are the first to be sacrificed and then young children. People become physically as well as emotionally exhausted, sitting for long hours staring at nothing, saying nothing. Much of what Turnbull described among the Ik is a portrait of people in this third stage. Ukrainian famine featured posters: "Eating dead children is barbarism". Chinese famine caused by Mao (peasants and officials competed to grow most grain, inflated their numbers, then Mao took a percentage [sometimes = the whole actual harvest] for city centers, some of which let the grain spoil while peasants died). "Yi zi er shi" = Anhui proverb, "swap child, make food". Party members made reforms (and were purged in time) but it wasn't until the 80s that the extent of the 1958-62 famine was known. Finally, Brazilian cane workers unemotional about baby deaths. The mood changes of extreme starvation are now medicated by tranquilizers, not with actual food. Chapter 10: Anorexia Nervosa. Still don't know shit about it, except that it's different from religious fasting and sainthood. "Genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger." Chapter 11: childhood hunger has lingering effects on happiness, achievement, growth, and health. You lag a few years as a child, but become a smaller and less healthy adult. Know this by tracking Danish children from WW2 famine. Marasmus = wasting away with bright eyes. Kwashiorkor has the mood swings of extreme starvation and children don't respond quickly to extra food. History of using children to trigger sympathy in famine appeals (because children aren't yet subject to racist "oh that's just a black man starving" responses). Food supplements have huge impact on recovery and later achievement, found from Guatemalan studies. Chapter 12: aid agencies and their work. Can get hung up on saving children when saving adults makes more sense (recovered adults can farm). Aid agencies working on nutriceutical type food products. Chapter 13: She gets all preachy about how we can end hunger. This book was written in 2005. Bet the Millennium Development Goals (set for 2015) have been well thrown off by the Global Financial Collapse, as Europeans and Americans turned their focus to their own provisions. Chapter 14: Irish famine had political roots, as they all go, we need to get our heads out of our asses and ... Preachy preachy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Agata

    This is a bit of a strange one. I got really excited about the premise of the book, but after reading three first chapters that describe the physical signs of hunger and further changes to the body it causes I had no desire to read it anymore. I found the semi- poetic language used in those descriptions quite pretentious and off-putting. I was expecting a cultural history of hunger, not this. Then the book gained its pace: the chapter on Minnesota Experiment is a real page-turner; the same can be This is a bit of a strange one. I got really excited about the premise of the book, but after reading three first chapters that describe the physical signs of hunger and further changes to the body it causes I had no desire to read it anymore. I found the semi- poetic language used in those descriptions quite pretentious and off-putting. I was expecting a cultural history of hunger, not this. Then the book gained its pace: the chapter on Minnesota Experiment is a real page-turner; the same can be said about the one that follows. The anthropological studies into cultural effects of hunger in societies facing permanent semi- starvation are certainly interesting. Then, unfortunately, the book goes back to its strange poetic tone that I found the most unfitting. It seems like the author could not decide what she wants to write, moving between a memoir and a very fragmented view of hunger seen in cultural terms. Last chapter is devoted to Ireland and Irish cultural identity, which again made very little sense in respect to the rest of this study. Overall, I suggest reading three mid-chapters (starting from the one on hunger studies conducted in the Warsaw ghetto). If not for those, this book would be a disappointment.

  3. 5 out of 5

    ambyr

    When I told people I was reading a book about hunger, they kept asking, "Hunger like being hungry? Or hunger like world hunger?" The answer is simply "yes." Russell covers hunger in all its myriad forms, providing a 10,000 foot overview of the subject that nonetheless manages to be astonishingly personal. I loved the writing best when it was personal, or at least smaller scale. The passages discussing how Russell dealt emotionally with the information she uncovered while researching the book wer When I told people I was reading a book about hunger, they kept asking, "Hunger like being hungry? Or hunger like world hunger?" The answer is simply "yes." Russell covers hunger in all its myriad forms, providing a 10,000 foot overview of the subject that nonetheless manages to be astonishingly personal. I loved the writing best when it was personal, or at least smaller scale. The passages discussing how Russell dealt emotionally with the information she uncovered while researching the book were beautiful, as was the science writing describing in intricate detail how the metabolism shifts when food grows scarce. I also appreciated her examination of the hunger strike as a political tool. I did find myself wishing for more depth, but that's a wish for a different book, not necessarily a flaw with this one. Notably less successful was the chapter on anthropology, which provided a literature review without offering much in the way of critical analysis. When the studies under discussion are 50-year old Western investigations of African and South American peoples that come down to "these people are weird and primitive," that's . . . kind of unfortunate. The conclusion's rather breezy assertions on how to end world hunger were also less than compelling, and that's speaking as someone who holds similar political positions to Russell; I can't imagine her arguments being convincing to anyone not already in firm agreement. Recommended, except to those struggling with eating disorders, who may find the book triggering--it certainly left me hyper-aware of my own eating (and lack of eating) while reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    Most of this book was quite good, especially the parts discussing hunger in very specific terms - it started with chapters split into different time periods discussing what happens when a person has been that long without food (36 hours, 3 days, 7 days, etc.) Later on, the author starts to discuss hunger in more general terms and sort of loses track of what she's talking about. The chapter on how to best start a refeeding program for people suffering from starvation, for example, is interesting Most of this book was quite good, especially the parts discussing hunger in very specific terms - it started with chapters split into different time periods discussing what happens when a person has been that long without food (36 hours, 3 days, 7 days, etc.) Later on, the author starts to discuss hunger in more general terms and sort of loses track of what she's talking about. The chapter on how to best start a refeeding program for people suffering from starvation, for example, is interesting but feels really out of place, somehow.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    The monster of hunger Most of us have never been hungry, I mean really hungry the way many of the people in this book have been hungry. What Sharman Apt Russell does is show the reader just what it is like in a physical, mental, political and medical way to be hungry, very hungry. She begins with the so-called "hunger artists" who performed feats of fasting for audiences while sometimes up in cages overlooking traveled boulevards. It seems fasting was a bit of a fad in the late 19th and early 20t The monster of hunger Most of us have never been hungry, I mean really hungry the way many of the people in this book have been hungry. What Sharman Apt Russell does is show the reader just what it is like in a physical, mental, political and medical way to be hungry, very hungry. She begins with the so-called "hunger artists" who performed feats of fasting for audiences while sometimes up in cages overlooking traveled boulevards. It seems fasting was a bit of a fad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She includes literary fasters like the protagonist of Kalka's story "A Hunger Artist" and that of Knut Hamsun's splendid short autobiographical novel Hunger (1890). She also gives us the all-time champ, holder of the record in the Guinness Book of Records (last acknowledged in 1971; Guinness no longer records fasts because of the dangers involved). His name is Mr. A.B. and he weighed 456 pounds when he began. 382 days later he weighed 180 pounds. Next she shows how our digestive system works and how it changes during food deprivation--what happens after 36 hours, 7 days, 30 days. The details about ghrelin and leptin, glucose and ketones are fascinating. Then she recalls famous hunger strikes including some very interesting material on the suffragettes, the Irish Republicans and Mahatma Gandhi. Then comes the horror of the Warsaw Ghetto and, amazingly enough, the work of Jewish doctors in the ghetto who took that gruesome opportunity to measure and study the steps toward death by starvation. Russell reports on "The Minnesota Experiment" during World War II in which young male conscientious objectors volunteered to go on an extended starvation diet so that doctors would know how to treat those in Europe and elsewhere after the war was over. After awhile these healthy young men cared nothing about sex or social activities. All they thought about was food. The academically inclined turned from scholarly books to cookbooks and found that the only conversations that interested them were about food, food, food. This reminds me of some of the episodes of TV's "Survivor." In "The Anthropology of Hunger" (Chapter 9) Russell explores "hunger frustration" among some tribes in Africa and Papua New Guinea. People tend to get a little testy when they don't have enough to eat, and when they have a culture that admires thinness and detests gluttony, they tend to eat on the sly, as do the Kalauna of Papua New Guinea. In this chapter Russell revisits anthropologist Colin Turnbull's famous book The Mountain People (1972) about the Ik people of Uganda who seemed to lack in common human decency. What she argues is that it was semi-starvation that drove the psychology of these people, and that Turnbull failed to adequately appreciate this. There is a chapter on "Anorexia nervosa" and attendant psychology, Karen Carpenter and the distorted body images of adolescent girls. And then come the chapters entitled, "Hungry Children" and the "Protocols of Famine." Now it really gets ugly, and the pages no longer turn themselves. The technical words become "dysentery" and "cholera" and "marasmus" and "kwashiorkor," words that describe starvation in children. Now the book is hard to read: Somalia, Ethiopia, the Sudan, famine all over the world, in China under Mao 1959-1962, in Guatemala under the military backed by the US, in short the words are about the geopolitics of hunger. Russell ends with a chapter on the potato famine in Ireland in 1845-50 and how that too was as much the result of political failure as it was the result of the potato blight. Her last words are about St. Patrick who went on a hunger strike against God, "a troscad until death." --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  6. 5 out of 5

    J. M.

    A surprising tour of the role of hunger in illness and health, throughout human history and today. It begins with the glamorous and healthy aspects of fasting: euphoria and insight, vitality, improved blood pressure and cholesterol. Fasting may alleviate or cure multiple diseases and lead to a longer, healthier life at the price of a few minor symptoms (hunger, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, etc.). I quite enjoyed the author’s account of her own fast. I want to give it a try myself. Then, the sto A surprising tour of the role of hunger in illness and health, throughout human history and today. It begins with the glamorous and healthy aspects of fasting: euphoria and insight, vitality, improved blood pressure and cholesterol. Fasting may alleviate or cure multiple diseases and lead to a longer, healthier life at the price of a few minor symptoms (hunger, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, etc.). I quite enjoyed the author’s account of her own fast. I want to give it a try myself. Then, the story takes a twist. Hunger strikes. The Warsaw Ghetto. The Minnesota Experiment. Starving tribesmen. Starving adolescent anorexics. Starving Somalian children. Suddenly, I’m very grateful for my American diet, even if it does give me heart disease. The author does a fantastic job of portraying the challenges of caring for the starving and the progress that we have made towards ending hunger in our world. She concludes with a beautiful retelling of the tale of Saint Patrick, including a personal account of her pilgrimage to Ireland, where about one million people died during the potato famine of 1845-1852. I found her proposal for ultimately ending world hunger to be a bit simplistic, but of course that’s not the topic of the book. In the end, Russell has given me a lasting gratitude for the abundance of food around me, a reasonable approach to fasting, and a renewed penchant for charity. I enjoyed it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Iamreddave

    this book start of slowly, but the chapters on the Minnesota experiment and the anthropology of hunger are brilliant. the writing style has poetic almost hallucination parts. like Sven Lindquist's non fiction. these work well on this topic I'll read more books by her. I think the chapter on the Irish famine is inaccurate. "Throughout the famine, ships of corn and barley left ireland to be sold elsewhere. Although imports of food donated or brought by relief organisations exceeded exports" Food Expo this book start of slowly, but the chapters on the Minnesota experiment and the anthropology of hunger are brilliant. the writing style has poetic almost hallucination parts. like Sven Lindquist's non fiction. these work well on this topic I'll read more books by her. I think the chapter on the Irish famine is inaccurate. "Throughout the famine, ships of corn and barley left ireland to be sold elsewhere. Although imports of food donated or brought by relief organisations exceeded exports" Food Exports from Ireland 1846-47 http://www.historyireland.com/18th-19... gives a more nuanced view that it was the timing between the exports and imports that is important. " At the same time, large amounts of food continued to leave Ireland and it was not until the following spring that food imports became substantial" and that calorie exports in terms of meat and alcohol also have to be considered. It looks to me that Irish food exports did surpass imports unlike what Russells book says or at least they did for long periods of time.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kc

    It takes a few chapters to match pace with the author. The author is telling a story that is philosophical (humanity's basic relationship with hunger) within the context of our times. By pulling in recent history (last 150 years) the author strings together a view of hunger in it's larger societal context from localized political protests to government sanctioned genocide. In parallel with studies and examples, she shows how global non profits benefit from the studies that come out of the state It takes a few chapters to match pace with the author. The author is telling a story that is philosophical (humanity's basic relationship with hunger) within the context of our times. By pulling in recent history (last 150 years) the author strings together a view of hunger in it's larger societal context from localized political protests to government sanctioned genocide. In parallel with studies and examples, she shows how global non profits benefit from the studies that come out of the state run programs to feed a world in change. This was a fantastic read with science and poetic philosophy coupled together in a compelling case for why hunger is a force to be reckoned.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ann Cooper

    Interesting and unsettling, and very guilt-provoking from this personal, well-fed place and time. It includes: amount of 'hunger' throughout the world and throughout history; starvation in wars; starvation in 'hunger strikes;' research on the effects of starvation on the body, and whether it can--or when it can--be reversed. Grim, but weirdly fascinating. Interesting and unsettling, and very guilt-provoking from this personal, well-fed place and time. It includes: amount of 'hunger' throughout the world and throughout history; starvation in wars; starvation in 'hunger strikes;' research on the effects of starvation on the body, and whether it can--or when it can--be reversed. Grim, but weirdly fascinating.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Highly recommend this book. The author discusses hunger in all of its forms: what happens to the body when we are hungry, what happens to the body when it's in starvation mode. She discusses famines and their causes. She discusses fasting for religious or political reasons. This book is a fascinating look at the power of hunger and the resilience of the human body. Highly recommend this book. The author discusses hunger in all of its forms: what happens to the body when we are hungry, what happens to the body when it's in starvation mode. She discusses famines and their causes. She discusses fasting for religious or political reasons. This book is a fascinating look at the power of hunger and the resilience of the human body.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dan Seitz

    Russell aims for the poetic, sometimes, and doesn't quite land. Yet that doesn't detract from the many facets of hunger explored here, from hunger as an act of protest to the surprising science behind how our body treats hunger. Worth a read for the science and history minded. Russell aims for the poetic, sometimes, and doesn't quite land. Yet that doesn't detract from the many facets of hunger explored here, from hunger as an act of protest to the surprising science behind how our body treats hunger. Worth a read for the science and history minded.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Liz Greenwood

    An interesting mix of biological, social, and historical information about hunger.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    I really just enjoy microhistories. This did, in places, feel like two books brought together but I so enjoyed the detailed analysis that I could easily overlook it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    Fascinating discussion of the many aspects of hunger. So enlightening.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lizzie

    Didn't finish this one. It was interesting, I just had too many other things going on. I'll get back to it. Didn't finish this one. It was interesting, I just had too many other things going on. I'll get back to it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shay Freeman

    I suppose my fault I thought this was something else

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Somehow, somewhere America's version of giving thanks became stuffing ourselves with food and then collapsing into an easy chair to watch football. Sharman Apt Russell's Hunger: An Unnatural History provides an excellent counterpoint to that mindset. Before you start backing away, this isn't book about famine in the third world (although that is unquestionably part of it). Instead, Hunger is a broad and wide-ranging exploration of and exposition on the subject, one that will make you think o Somehow, somewhere America's version of giving thanks became stuffing ourselves with food and then collapsing into an easy chair to watch football. Sharman Apt Russell's Hunger: An Unnatural History provides an excellent counterpoint to that mindset. Before you start backing away, this isn't book about famine in the third world (although that is unquestionably part of it). Instead, Hunger is a broad and wide-ranging exploration of and exposition on the subject, one that will make you think of hunger in ways you never have before.[return][return]Russell's unique approach begins at the outset. She starts from a simple proposition: "Hunger is a country we enter every day, like a commuter across a friendly border." She's right. Every day virtually every person, regardless of wealth, residence or social class, will feel their body tell them that it's hungry, that it needs fuel. Hunger is not limited to those who truly are starving.[return][return]Russell gradually expands her exploration by going through the various stages of hunger, whether it's a body that's gone a few hours or a day without food to those who are starving to death. Among other things, she examines the connection between hunger, albeit self-imposed via fasting, and religion. She basically broadens the common concept of hunger as simply a life-crushing experience and brings it into terms of everyday life and things everyone can understand.[return][return]Russell moves from the micro of the impact on the individual to the global, examining large scale famine and starvation and how they can be addressed. She looks at the personal, briefly recounting her experience with a fast she terminated after four days. She even looks at the obscene, or more accurately, how obscene events such as forced starvation imposed by the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto led the Jewish doctors there to gain scientific knowledge that remains valuable today.[return][return]Balance of review at http://prairieprogressive.com/2005/11...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Krista Danis

    Sharman Apt Russell offers this comprehensive analysis of hunger as it spans both the political and personal, intertwining its causes and effects within and amongst our locatedness as private and public bodies. Some "choose" hunger based on personal or political motivations, while others suffer starvation due to the abusive ramifications of local/global inequity around particular othernesses. Her opening chapters invite the reader to examine hunger from the lens most likely occupied by dominant Sharman Apt Russell offers this comprehensive analysis of hunger as it spans both the political and personal, intertwining its causes and effects within and amongst our locatedness as private and public bodies. Some "choose" hunger based on personal or political motivations, while others suffer starvation due to the abusive ramifications of local/global inequity around particular othernesses. Her opening chapters invite the reader to examine hunger from the lens most likely occupied by dominant eyes, such as mine from the perspective of an American white woman with questionable class status and tiers of privilege. Maybe the poetics of these first thoughts that others so loathed in Apt Russell's work were to emphasize the ways in which privileged cultures sometimes romanticize hunger and starvation. This may also be why her book offers only a cursory examination of Anorexia Nervosa as an experience of hunger, though I wish she would have considered a more complex discussion here instead of the glossed over, almost obligatory mention. The chapter on Anorexia Nervosa, actually, signaled a turning point in my experience with Hunger: An Unnatural History. Heretofore, Apt Russell discusses hunger from vantages not often taken, such as the hunger strike as political activism or the religious implications of fasting as sacrifice or closeness to god. She analyzes the effects of hunger on human bodies in scientific experiment from conventional and contested spaces of inquiry. Almost abruptly, however, she switches gears toward a focus on the destructive effects of hunger on children in underdeveloped countries and the efforts of one organization in particular to combat the morbid trend. While of obvious import to anyone concerned about social justice on a global scale, her discussion here seems lacking in the critical sophistication she illustrates in earlier chapters. The second to last chapter, "An End to Hunger," is a call to action that outlines some of the steps the UN has taken to combat global hunger but does little to challenge the status quo keeping oppressive political systems in place. So, for me, the first chapters were the most riveting, while the final chapters on world hunger are covered more effectively elsewhere.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    Sharman Apt-Russell’s book Hunger: an Unnatural History is a compelling study of an intimidating topic. Apt-Russell approaches her subject matter methodically; her poetic use of language engages the reader on every page despite the large sections of text devoted to scientific study and research. The combination of research and personal commentary is a daunting undertaking. As is the combination of scientific jargon and emotional reaction to information, and yet Apt-Russell does so skillfully. Pe Sharman Apt-Russell’s book Hunger: an Unnatural History is a compelling study of an intimidating topic. Apt-Russell approaches her subject matter methodically; her poetic use of language engages the reader on every page despite the large sections of text devoted to scientific study and research. The combination of research and personal commentary is a daunting undertaking. As is the combination of scientific jargon and emotional reaction to information, and yet Apt-Russell does so skillfully. Perhaps this is because her subject matter demands scientific inquiry and could not be more personal to each and every living thing: hunger. The insight the text offers sends shivers down the spine and stands the hair on end: “At the same time, the icon of children in famine is a Western bias. In many of the places where extreme hunger exists, the survival of adults might be viewed as more important. . . . In famine, a focus on women and children highlights biology: here is a mother who cannot feed her child, a breakdown of the natural order of life.” Readers react in a visceral way to this statement, but Apt-Russell goes on, “This focus obscures who and what is to blame for the famine, politically and economically, and can lead to the belief that a biological response, more food, will solve the problem” (179). Where does the reader take responsibility? Can we stop hunger without addressing other—less biologically necessary—processes? It leaves the reader wondering what sort of disease in human society causes hunger and famine. A critical read should lead the reader to a desire—a hunger for more knowledge. Yet, it is through her soft poetic language that Apt-Russell presents the hard truths about our world.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Russell mixes in social science, biology, pop culture, in a fairly quick and engaging read on such a broad topic. The most fascinating (and at times horrifying) parts were, for me, the studies conducted by Jewish doctors imprisioned in the Warsaw ghetto and by conscientious objectors in the US who at the same time volunteered to starve themselves so that the US could plan how to effectively refeed survivors once freed. Russell tends to believe what anyone tells her - at times, I'd like to see a Russell mixes in social science, biology, pop culture, in a fairly quick and engaging read on such a broad topic. The most fascinating (and at times horrifying) parts were, for me, the studies conducted by Jewish doctors imprisioned in the Warsaw ghetto and by conscientious objectors in the US who at the same time volunteered to starve themselves so that the US could plan how to effectively refeed survivors once freed. Russell tends to believe what anyone tells her - at times, I'd like to see a little more scientific support (like some random chiropractor's assertion that fasting makes you healthier because the plaque in your arteries starts to break down). Her objective is pretty much to inform you of any possible connections (which she does remarkably well, with such a broad topic) but not to critique - making this book, with it's glowing chapters on an Irish charity feeding the starving in 3rd workd countries, a sharp contrast to many books that sharply critique how developed nations address that need.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Excellent book on, never read anything like it. From the medical benefits of fasting, to political prisoners dying from hunger strikes to eating disorders, to the warsaw getto this is a fascinating study of the medical and cultural aspects of hunger. The most eye opening chapter is on the anthropology of hunger - how starvation affects the way individuals think and act, and how a society that is slowly starving functions and then falls apart. Amazing part about the Ik tribe in Africa, and how th Excellent book on, never read anything like it. From the medical benefits of fasting, to political prisoners dying from hunger strikes to eating disorders, to the warsaw getto this is a fascinating study of the medical and cultural aspects of hunger. The most eye opening chapter is on the anthropology of hunger - how starvation affects the way individuals think and act, and how a society that is slowly starving functions and then falls apart. Amazing part about the Ik tribe in Africa, and how their chronic starvation in the society led to brutal, nasty behaviour - from kicking kids out of home at 5 years old to a cruel sense of humour. Also amazing stories of starvation in rural China in the past century, including the folk saying 'swap kid, make soup' - when families would swap corpses and eat them to survive. One of those rare books where the author manages to bring together so many different societies, beliefs and behaviours. I learned so much from this book, so many things that never would have occured to me despite the fact that I'm hungry every day. Highly recommended!!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Woowott

    I didn't finish. Looking at the reviews makes me want to skip to the middle chapters. But so far, in the first three chapters, I'm dying here. So much use of the passive verb. This book seems to be the author's attempt at poetic prose, but it's unbearable. It's vague at best, confusing and pointless at worst. The author makes lovely assumptions about weight and health that shows me she hasn't read up on recent findings. A couple of things she said regarding syndromes made me want to throw the bo I didn't finish. Looking at the reviews makes me want to skip to the middle chapters. But so far, in the first three chapters, I'm dying here. So much use of the passive verb. This book seems to be the author's attempt at poetic prose, but it's unbearable. It's vague at best, confusing and pointless at worst. The author makes lovely assumptions about weight and health that shows me she hasn't read up on recent findings. A couple of things she said regarding syndromes made me want to throw the book. It's like unbearable literary nonfiction. I can't handle literary fiction, but literary nonfiction might be worse. At least, when it's a half-arsed attempt at pretentious poetics. Ugh. I wanted history, not this writer's vanity project. The reviews on the back went on and on about how her writing is art. It's worse than bad art: It's annoying, pretentious art too busy showing off to actually get to any point. Bleah.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Happyreader

    A fascinating airplane read. She took what can be a dry and clinical topic and turned it into a real page turner. Everything from the physiology of hunger to voluntary fasting for religious, health, and political reasons to involuntary hunger and the WWII Warsaw ghetto studies and the Minnesota experiments along with examinations of societies suffering from chronic food shortages and political famines. My own weekend experiences of visiting the Greater Boston Food Bank and viewing Free Trade fil A fascinating airplane read. She took what can be a dry and clinical topic and turned it into a real page turner. Everything from the physiology of hunger to voluntary fasting for religious, health, and political reasons to involuntary hunger and the WWII Warsaw ghetto studies and the Minnesota experiments along with examinations of societies suffering from chronic food shortages and political famines. My own weekend experiences of visiting the Greater Boston Food Bank and viewing Free Trade films highlighting the starving farm families exploited so that we can have cheap goods enhanced the impact of this book for me. Worth a read for a better understanding of everything from fasting detox diets and anorexia to the physiological problems of refeeding starving people and preventing famine overall. An enthralling mix of clinical research, history, and politics.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Just finished Hunger: An unnatural history by Sharman Apt Russell. Very interesting and readable. Although, it was repetitive in places and labored occasionally, I would read more of her stuff. She also has a very ill-informed idea of what anthropology is, which given her standing as a writer, is slightly unforgivable - if you can have something slightly unforgivable. I suppose what I mean is that I feel like cutting her some slack because I enjoyed the book and her work but as a potential anthr Just finished Hunger: An unnatural history by Sharman Apt Russell. Very interesting and readable. Although, it was repetitive in places and labored occasionally, I would read more of her stuff. She also has a very ill-informed idea of what anthropology is, which given her standing as a writer, is slightly unforgivable - if you can have something slightly unforgivable. I suppose what I mean is that I feel like cutting her some slack because I enjoyed the book and her work but as a potential anthropologist, it annoys so so much that she spends the time to research everything else except the anthropology she writes about. Or rather the stuff she defines as anthropology. She wouldn't do that with any other discipline. And that's a slight quibble that almost no one else will have anyway. I will look out for more by her.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I'm reading this book in conjunction with doing my own fast and it has been incredibly helpful. I fast for health reasons. In the past, I have quit mid-way because I don't understand what is happening to my body and why. It is very easy to believe that the negative side effects one experiences are more harmful than helpful. Russell's book begins by explaining exactly what happens in the body when one quits eating food. She goes in depth about our hormonal, digestive, and metabolic processes in a I'm reading this book in conjunction with doing my own fast and it has been incredibly helpful. I fast for health reasons. In the past, I have quit mid-way because I don't understand what is happening to my body and why. It is very easy to believe that the negative side effects one experiences are more harmful than helpful. Russell's book begins by explaining exactly what happens in the body when one quits eating food. She goes in depth about our hormonal, digestive, and metabolic processes in a way that is very reader friendly. Although the book is written from a neutral point of view, I have found it helpful and encouraging. It has been a major factor in my endurance this time through.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cori

    Most of us never think about going without food beyond the necessary calorie deprivation to slim down. But this fascinating book will change your perspective on food, make you grateful for it, and expose you to the miraculous work of the body in keeping us alive. The author carefully and scientifically explains what happens to the body during self-imposed fasts as well as circumstantially imposed starvation. She includes research conducted in the Warsaw ghetto by the Jews that were imprisoned th Most of us never think about going without food beyond the necessary calorie deprivation to slim down. But this fascinating book will change your perspective on food, make you grateful for it, and expose you to the miraculous work of the body in keeping us alive. The author carefully and scientifically explains what happens to the body during self-imposed fasts as well as circumstantially imposed starvation. She includes research conducted in the Warsaw ghetto by the Jews that were imprisoned there as well as observations of hungry cultures, places in the world that go without enough food generation after generation. We all think food is habit, even a right. Reading this book forces you to reevaluate the sustaining privilege of eating.

  27. 4 out of 5

    StephenEmily

    I definitely enjoyed reading this book. It gives new insight into the sensation of hunger. It deals with hunger from many perspectives, including physical, emotional, spiritual and societal perspectives. It shows how hunger has been dealt with in the past and how it is currently being dealt with, and shows how it has been used as a method of health, protest and spiritual advancement. It's a high quality book that deals with a subject both ubiquitous and largely ignored by most people who don't l I definitely enjoyed reading this book. It gives new insight into the sensation of hunger. It deals with hunger from many perspectives, including physical, emotional, spiritual and societal perspectives. It shows how hunger has been dealt with in the past and how it is currently being dealt with, and shows how it has been used as a method of health, protest and spiritual advancement. It's a high quality book that deals with a subject both ubiquitous and largely ignored by most people who don't live with it constantly. I would recommend this book to anybody who likes learning for the sake of learning.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Monique

    This book was my first non-fiction book in a long time, and it was very informative. I love learning about all of the ways the human body defends itself against disease, and all the in's and out's about hunger itself. The chapters about the people who starved themselves for justice, as well as for experimentation purposes, were especially captivating, (albeit a bit gory and unsettling). I've always been interested in the idea of hunger, and how long we can go without food, and it really did give This book was my first non-fiction book in a long time, and it was very informative. I love learning about all of the ways the human body defends itself against disease, and all the in's and out's about hunger itself. The chapters about the people who starved themselves for justice, as well as for experimentation purposes, were especially captivating, (albeit a bit gory and unsettling). I've always been interested in the idea of hunger, and how long we can go without food, and it really did give me a good grasp of how seriously people are starving and malnourished in third world countries.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I'm a total nerd. When I'm interested in a topic (say, intermittent fasting) I have to research it to death. I like knowing how things work. This book is a very measured, poetically-written, scientific history of hunger. It's tragic, illuminating, and successfully reduces humanity (our dreams, our desires, our weaknesses) to our stomachs. Definitely a great read, but slow-paced, so unless you have an obsession with the topic or simply want a unique book to read, I can see this one being by-passe I'm a total nerd. When I'm interested in a topic (say, intermittent fasting) I have to research it to death. I like knowing how things work. This book is a very measured, poetically-written, scientific history of hunger. It's tragic, illuminating, and successfully reduces humanity (our dreams, our desires, our weaknesses) to our stomachs. Definitely a great read, but slow-paced, so unless you have an obsession with the topic or simply want a unique book to read, I can see this one being by-passed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    One Sentence Summary: Hunger: An Unnatural History is an overview of the science, sociology, and moral implications of hunger and it’s impact across the globe. One Sentence Review: This book covers a little too much territory for my tastes, but it still provides a well-written and important overview of the impact of hunger on an individual and society. To read the rest of my review, visit Sophisticated Dorkiness. One Sentence Summary: Hunger: An Unnatural History is an overview of the science, sociology, and moral implications of hunger and it’s impact across the globe. One Sentence Review: This book covers a little too much territory for my tastes, but it still provides a well-written and important overview of the impact of hunger on an individual and society. To read the rest of my review, visit Sophisticated Dorkiness.

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