Material World: A Global Family Portrait Book Review

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One of the coolest and most eye-opening coffee table books ever! Photographer Peter Menzel and his team found a statistically average family in 30 different countries around the world, including Ethiopia, China, Thailand, Brazil, United States, Mexico, Haiti, Germany, Spain, India, and Israel, and photographed them in front of their home with all their possessions around them. The photographers also lived with each family for a week and interviewed them to learn more about their lives, possessions, hopes, and dreams.

Some of the contrasts are pretty shocking. In Mali, for example, a family of 11 (husband, two wives, and eight children) lives in a mud-walled house with little more than a radio, a bicycle, some blankets, and a bunch of cooking utensils, while a family of 5 in Kuwait has, among other things, four cars, two antique Chinese urns, a Tiffany lamp, and a 45 foot long sofa. But there are also many similarities across cultures, especially in each family’s list of hopes for the future.

Because the book was originally published in 1994, some of the information about the countries is now out of date. However, because it was made when it was made, Material World is also able to present a fascinating picture of lives in upheaval in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and the war in Bosnia, plus portraits of life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

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My rating: (5 / 5)


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