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Hunger: A Modern History [Hardcover]

James Vernon

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Book Description

30 Nov 2007
Hunger is as old as history itself. Indeed, it appears to be a timeless and inescapable biological condition. And yet perceptions of hunger and of the hungry have changed over time and differed from place to place. Hunger has a history, which can now be told.At the beginning of the 19th century, hunger was viewed as an unavoidable natural phenomenon or as the fault of its lazy and morally flawed victims. By the middle of the 20th century, a new understanding of hunger had taken root. Across the British Empire and beyond, humanitarian groups, political activists, social reformers, and nutritional scientists established that the hungry were innocent victims of political and economic forces outside their control. Hunger was now seen as a global social problem requiring government intervention in the form of welfare to aid the hungry at home and abroad. James Vernon captures this momentous shift as it occurred in imperial Britain over the past two centuries.Rigorously researched, "Hunger: A Modern History" draws together social, cultural, and political history in a novel way, to show us how we came to have a moral, political, and social responsibility toward the hungry. Vernon forcefully reminds us how many perished from hunger in the empire and reveals how their history was intricately connected with the precarious achievements of the welfare state in Britain, as well as with the development of international institutions, such as the United Nations, committed to the conquest of world hunger. All those moved by the plight of the hungry will want to read this compelling book.

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Review

"A major challenge in writing about hunger and other humanitarian crises is
conveying the scale of the problem without losing sight of individual human
suffering. Vernon neatly avoids this problem by taking a sensibly self-aware approach
to his subject, acknowledging both the universality of human hunger and the
strikingly dissimilar way in which different cultures have come to terms with it. [His]
focus on the intersection between cultural and political history allows him to ask
pertinent questions about the emergence of our modern, post-imperial attitudes.
Hunger: A Modern History is a politically engaged history at its most humane, and
Vernon uses his compassion and erudition to drive home a deeply disquieting truth. In
the secular postmodern west, hunger is perhaps the closest we get to guilt."
-- Richard Barnett, Lancet, 15 March 2008

Hunger is a thought-provoking book. Sharply focused and tightly argued. -- - Michael Sargent, Nature

Hunger: A Modern History moves impressively between the British domestic and political, the colonial and the global, without straining the argument or losing touch with the sources. James Vernon's research ranges over vast tracts of material, demonstrating concretely and graphically how discussion about famine originating in nineteenth-century India became central to discussion about nutrition in twentieth-century Britain.
-- Gareth Stedman Jones, Cambridge University

This survey of British attitudes towards hunger is no mere liberal guilt-inducer...The book ends in the 1940s with glances forward to Thatcher, Tebbit, and Blair. Its range is political, sociological, and media-aware: "Tell the bastards!" says a 1930s documentary film-maker. Scholarly and unjudgmental, the book does. -- - Martin Hoyle, Financial Times

Vernon has put together a persuasive and wide-ranging history of hunger. His central tenet that hunger is not a natural catastrophe--it emerges into public view within historical contexts and for precise political reasons--is compelling. -- - Joanna Bourke, The Times

About the Author

James Vernon is Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
History, it appears, cannot escape hunger. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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