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Hunger: An Unnatural History [Paperback]

Sharman Apt Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

5 Oct 2006
Hunger is both a natural and an unnatural human condition. Sharman Apt Russell explores the range of this primal experience

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (5 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465071651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465071654
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 307,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am pleased to be considered a nature and science writer, although essentially I write about whatever interests me and seems important--living in place, archaeology, flowers, butterflies, hunger, and pantheism. I am now working on a project about citizen science and the study of the charismatic Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle. I'm also engaged in other programs like Nature's Notebook and Celebrate Urban Birds. Citizen science is such an exciting field. You can transform yourself in a thousand ways, studying monarch butterflies or listening to whale songs or classifying galaxies...For more information on that, you can Like my Facebook author page Sharman Apt Russell.

Raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, in 1981 I settled in southern New Mexico as a "back to the lander" and have stayed there ever since. I am a longtime professor in the Humanities Department at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, as well as an associate faculty at Antioch University in Los Angeles. I received my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana and my B.S. in Conservation and Natural Resources from the University of California, Berkeley.

Please contact me at www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through Goodreads. Writing is a conversation and a dialogue. And writing is experiencing a renaissance and a democratization in terms of publishing and connecting with readers online. That's pretty neat.

As for books, my collection of essays Songs of the Fluteplayer: Seasons of Life in the Southwest (Addison-Wesley, 1991; reprinted by University of Nebraska Press, 2000) won the 1992 Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award and New Mexico Zia Award and recounts my early years in rural New Mexico. Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist (Basic Books, 2008) was a New Mexico Book Award finalist and one of Booklists' top ten religious books of 2008.

Hunger: An Unnatural History (Basic Books, 2005) was the result of a Rockefeller Fellowship at Bellagio, Italy, and An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect (Perseus Books, 2003) was a pick of independent booksellers in the Summer 2003 Book Sense 76. Anatomy of a Rose: Exploring the Secret Life of Flowers (Perseus Books, 2001) has been translated into eight languages.

I will have a YA novel out this spring, 2015 and a middle-grade fantasy in the fall. Writing keeps you busy.


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Review

"(an) elegantly written mixture of history, science and memoir...an engaging journey through the whole spectrum of hunger." -- The Observer

"Fascinating ...(t)his rather grim subject comes to seem profound, thanks to Russell's ruminative prose style and keen intelligence." -- The Guardian Review, 28th January 2006

"Fascinating...(t)his rather grim subject comes to seem profound, thanks to Russell's ruminative prose style and keen intelligence." -- The Guardian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Sharman Apt Russell is the author of several books, including Hunger and Songs of the Fluteplayer, which won the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award. She has written for publications including Discover and Nature Conservancy, and currently contributes to OnEarth, the magazine for the National Resource Defense Council. Russell teaches creative writing at Western New Mexico University and at Antioch University in Los Angeles, California. She lives in Silver City, New Mexico.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The monster of hunger 1 Dec 2006
By Dennis Littrell TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and informative 15 Nov 2005
By D. M. Purkiss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A wonderfully written, rich, sweeping survey of hunger. many fine stories - some harrowing - finely told and thoughtfully examined. Only a few minor errors - colostrum is thick and yellowy, not thin and blue, for example, and there was little reference to recent work on the speed of metabolic recovery after low-calorie eating. But these should spoil the book for no-one; it was informative, elegant and clever, and I recommend it heartily.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The monster of hunger 1 Dec 2006
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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 mentions 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. She argues 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."
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for the mind and soul 25 Oct 2005
By C. L. Epling - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This incredible book covers every aspect of hunger from your rumbling tummy to mass starvation. It includes science, history, anthropology, philosophy, hope and despair; topics such as anorexia nervosa, religious fasting, and hunger studies - both planned and imposed. The phrases grip you; the thoughts connect or clarify. The subject matter is so huge, so important and so well dealt with that I felt at every level that Hunger touches us all.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful tapestry of hunger-related topics written in prose that reads like poetry 30 Jun 2006
By David Evans - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In marvelously non-technical fashion, Russell describes the biology of hunger: what happens to your body as you go eighteen hours, thirty-six hours, and thirty days without food. She shows how hunger strikes have changed the world (from Gandhi's non-violent strikes to the Irish Republican Army and British suffragettes), the role of fasting in myriad religious traditions, how hunger has defined certain traditional cultures, and even how hunger has been used as entertainment.

Some chapters illuminate fascinating chapters in the history of hunger. "The Hunger Disease Studies" narrates how internationally renowned Jewish scientists in the Warsaw Ghetto used the omnipresent starvation to perform scientific studies on every aspect of starvation, searching for meaning in terrible suffering. "The Minnesota Experiment" describes an enlightening study of starvation and refeeding during World War II. Russell casts her net wide, examining the social and biological aspects of anorexia, giving an inside view to famine relief in Somalia and Ethiopia, and showing how hunger affects children distinctly.

Russell's skilled prose makes even the World Health Organization's technical instructions on refeeding a malnourished child interesting. She reminds us that science is a kind of poetry. As with all the best non-fiction, her endnotes offer a wealth of fascinating literature on every aspect of hunger, a literature I'll be sure to dive into. As another reviewer wrote, Russell's writing "is an extraordinary mating of exciting, sure-footed science and inspired prose poetry" (Burlington Free Press, 10 August 2003).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing read 19 Feb 2006
By JC - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book kept my interest from beginning to end. Among other things, she talks about the difference between fasting and starvation, the religious tradition of fasting (periodically for some, supposedly constantly for a few "saints"), anorexia, and the results of constant hunger on people's minds, bodies, and especially behavior, whether they're volunteer experiments or real people in poor societies who are slowly starving to death. The latter stories, as well as information about famines in China, Ireland, and elsewhere, are sobering and sad. Naturally, these experiences are in such stark contrast to how most of we overfed Americans live, and I kept thinking of some of the constant exhortations you find in diet books like "never skip breakfast" or "don't eat foods such as carrots or potatoes because you'll gain weight more easily, eat low carb only." This book was a good reality check about that sort of advice. On an optimistic note, Ms. Russell also talks about the efforts of Dr. Steven Collins and others to help provide portable, nutrient rich foods to starving people, and that chapter ends very hopefully. I highly recommend this book.
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