Hungry Planet: What the World Eats Book Review



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Review:

Another wonderful and thought-provoking book by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Though not exactly in the same series as Material World and Women in the Material World, Hungry Planet does visit a few of the same families, including the Namgays in Bhutan, the Ukitas in Japan, the Batsuuris in Mongolia, and the Natomos in Mali and it’s fun to revisit them and catch up on the news, so to speak. Other countries include France, Greenland, Egypt, and the Philippines. This time, each family is photographed surrounded by a week’s worth of food, and it is no less fascinating than their possessions.

Again, some of the contrasts are shocking (even the difference between the meager allotment granted to a Sudanese refugee family in Chad and the diet of a local family in the same country was painful to contemplate) but one of the most notable lessons of the book for me was that wealth correlated with more food, not necessarily healthier food. The Namgays, a poor farming family in rural Bhutan that got their first electric light bulb during the same period the book was being photographed, appear to have one of the healthiest diets in Hungry Planet, while the book’s introduction notes that several of the Western families (including the Revises, one of three families from different ethnicities in the USA) were so appalled by how they really ate that they changed their diet after being photographed for the book!

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My rating: (4 / 5)

Women in the Material World Book Review



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Review:

A companion book to Material World: A Global Family Portrait that is just as eye-opening and thought-provoking as the original! In Women in the Material World, Peter Menzel and his partner Faith D’Aluisio returned to many of the same families visited in the original book to focus on the lives of the women, with more extensive interviews about their lives.

As in the first book, the similarities between the different women’s hopes and dreams is beautiful and inspirational, but the differences in their day-to-day lives is frequently shocking. This book was my first introduction to the practice of bride kidnapping, for example, a horrific but common practice in Ethiopia in which a man literally kidnaps and rapes the woman he wants to marry in order to force her family to acquiesce to the marriage, regardless of her own wishes. (For more about this practice – and some hopeful progress towards ending it – see this excellent article: Kidnapped. Raped. Married. The extraordinary rebellion of Ethiopia’s abducted wives.)

Most of the interviews are incredibly honest and revealing as the different women share struggles including unplanned pregnancy, loveless marriages, sudden widowhood, the death of a child, past abortions, raising a disabled child, single parenthood, and more. At the same time, there are also stories of success and inspiration, including beautiful portraits of family happiness and love even in the most trying circumstances. The affection that the photographers developed for many of the women and families that they interviewed also comes through loud and clear.

Highly recommended.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

Material World: A Global Family Portrait Book Review



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Review:

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)