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The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World (Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time) Hardcover – 24 May 2004

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (24 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521808782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521808781
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.6 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,086,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


'Escape from Hunger is without a doubt one of Fogel's masterworks. Written in an accessible style, it is ideal for use in higher-level undergraduate and graduate courses.' Cormac Ógráda, University College, Dublin (EH.HET)

'This book is the result of impressively thorough research of an equally impressive amount of material. … This book is easily accessible and will be very valuable to scholars in disciplines including, but not limited to, demography, economic history and medicine. A useful glossary and biographical summaries contribute to make this a valuable addition to the literature.' Journal of Peace Research

'… Robert W. Fogel has written a fascinating book … a remarkable conglomerate of profound knowledge …' Journal of Biosocial Science

'… essential and exciting book …' History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

Book Description

A compelling study from Nobel laureate Robert Fogel, first published in 2004, which examines health, nutrition and technology over the last three centuries and beyond. It will be essential reading for all those interested in economics, demography, history and health care policy.

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Format: Paperback
Fogel details how human welfare has soared in the past 300 years, particularly in the 20th century. He pays particular attention to increases in life expectancy over that time and to increases in average height and weight.

One fo the more interesting things the author looks at is how the height and weight of populations varies depending on nutrition. If food becomes scarce populations become smaller and can survive with less food. Conversely, and more frequently (in the last 300 years) the opposite happens. Apparently in 1860 the average Dutchman was only 164cm in height. Nowadays the average Dutchman is 182cm tall. He calls the process by which the physical characteristics of humans change hand in hand with technological advances "technophysio evolution" although it is not evolution in a genetic sense.

There is also analysis of "Waaler surfaces" in this book. These are surfaces giving relative risk of death as a function of the weight and height and of individual. It transpires that taller people suffer less health risk and have a lower optimal BMI than is the case for shorter people.

The author also includes an analysis of healthcare, explains why we can expect an increasing share of income to be spent on healthcare and why this is no bad thing. His comments are very relevant to the current healthcare debate in the USA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9d6ecd90) out of 5 stars 6 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9686a9f0) out of 5 stars A glass more than half-full? 16 April 2006
By A. R. Cellura - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Given that our vision is so heavily freighted with the moment, ideas of human progress are in short supply lately. Although not an easy ride, economic historian and Nobel laureate Robert William Fogel's survey of the long run, at least in respect to human morbidity, leisure and longevity, provides escape velocity from pressing concerns about war, pandemic, income inequality and the health of the ecosphere. It might be as another noted economist, Alfred Lord Keynes, said in a different context: In the long-run we are all dead. But, the long-run seems to be getting longer.

The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 is an extension of Fogel's briefer 1993 Nobel Prize Lecture. It provides a synergistic view of the impact of increasing human environmental control on the demographic, economic and physiological conditions of successive generations over the past 300 years. According to Fogel, the interaction of these forces has over this period, and most dramatically over the last century, brought about a new stage of evolution - non-genetic "techno-physio evolution." He indicates this is evidenced by an unprecedented positive change during this period in caloric intake of about 250%, human body size of over 50%, and an increase in longevity of over 100%. Pointing to the future, Fogel's extrapolation of data over the last 140 years in optimal life circumstances, suggests that centenarians will be common by the last quarter of the 21st century. During the past three centuries there has also been an accompanying substantial decrease in the hours it takes each day to earn one's daily bread and increase in the percentage of discretionary income.

Although this is a "little" book, just 111 pages in the main body, it is densely packed with deep-mine data and illuminating higher-order concepts derived from a lifetime of concentration on economic development, particularly when Fogel was affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research as director of its Development of the American Economy Program and subsequently at the University of Chicago as the Charles R. Walgreen Professor of American Institutions and director of the university's Center for Population Economics. Metabolic indices, the thermodynamics of human physiological activity, Waaler curves, in-utero effects on morbidity, protein energy, malnutrition, physiological capital, and Gini ratios are grist for Fogel's mill.

Fogel's treatment of the confluence of technological change, diet, morbidity, work demands, leisure and mortality extends beyond developments in Western society to include the rapid pace of technophysio evolutionary changes in third world countries whose per capita income increases piggybacked on Western innovations, consequently dwarfing the much slower pace of Western improvements a century earlier. In the process of his examination he emphasizes the need to recognize the optimal conditions for human adaptation rather than settle for standards such as daily caloric requirements derived from earlier phases of technophysio evolution. Policy issues in the areas of health care, personal savings and retirement are also discussed in the light of the demographic changes that are occurring.

Some data reported by Fogel and those from other sources are anomalous. For instance, in view of the technophysio evolution particularly of the last 100 years, it seems strange that Dutch males, who were on average about 5'5" in 1860 are now the tallest in the world at about 5'11" while over the same period US men, who were about 5'7" then, are only 5'8" now after the declines of the last few decades. One explanation derives from the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the US (Gini = 45) compared to the greater income equality in the Netherlands (Gini = 30.9). (The Gini coefficient ranges from 1-100 with lower scores representing less income inequality). Also, there are data from millennia ago indicating a decline in average heights in the Eastern Mediterranean in the transition period from the hunter-gatherer economic regime to the first agricultural revolution (11,000 BC - 5000 BC). In John Kolmos (Ed.) Stature, Living Standards and Economic Development (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994) there are a number of contributions that focus on such issues.

Professor Fogel touches very briefly on in utero, childhood and adolescence effects of economic status on morbidity and mortality, but his comment that "The exact mechanisms by which malnutrition and trauma in utero or in early childhood are transformed into organ dysfunctions are still unclear." (p. 32) is unwarranted. These relationships are detailed extensively in various chapters of the volume by Bruce S. McEwen and H. Maurice Goodman (Eds.) Handbook of Physiology: Coping with the Environment: Vol. IV (Oxford Univ. Press, 2001) for neuroendocrine abnormalities; in D.J.P. Barker's Mothers, Babies and Health in later Life (Churchill Livingstone, 1998) and Fetal Origins of Cardiovascular and Lung Disease (Marcel Dekker, 2001) for specific organ effects; in Peter Gluckman and Mark Hansen's The Fetal Matrix (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005) for more general morbidity effects; and A.R. Cellura's The Genomic Environment and Niche-Experience (Cedar Springs Press, 2005) for the confluence of genetic influences, economic regimes, ecological niches, caloric intake, stature, morbidity and mortality.

Robert William Fogel's The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 is that rare species of research - longitudinal study. Unlike the cross-sectional snapshots whose importance often quickly fades, there is gold in these data mines that is so precious because it is so difficult to find and so hard to get to. It is must reading for those in human biology, medicine and the social sciences who are interested in the issues surrounding human adaptation. It will also appeal to life-long learners drawn to the interface between the biology, economics and history of the human condition.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9689b108) out of 5 stars Life in the past was much worse than you ever thought 30 Dec. 2009
By Paul & DJ - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book starts with an examination of living conditions preceding and during the Industrial Revolution, based on data developed in Britain and France in the last few decades that shows life expectancy and mortality for the past three to four centuries. Parallel research also reconstructed estimates of the food available for both countries and some limited data on height of adult males. The data shows that food supply was insufficient and this is also reflected in stunted heights. The problem of hunger was so bad, particularly in France, that people did not get enough calories to do much productive work, and were confined to bed in the winter as a means of conserving calories. People in the US fared better, having adequate nourishment, greatly outliving people in Britain and France.

Though diseases and occasional famines took a toll, chronic malnutrition was a factor in disease susceptibility but chronic malnutrition itself was by far the major factor in mortality. This argument is reinforced with graphs and tables of relative mortality versus height and body mass index.

Times series show a secular decline in mortality beginning around 1750 and continuing until the early 20th Century, although the scatter in the data was also markedly reduced (around the time of industrialization, railroads, steamships and canals) probably due to reduced impact of famines and epidemics.

The books concludes with a discussion of societal effects of the great increase in life expectancy and the problem of health care for the elderly.

After reading this book you will give thanks before every meal!

For a contemporary account see: Friedrich Engles: The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844

As for how we managed to escape from hunger see: Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production by Vaclav Smil
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9688afd8) out of 5 stars A Book that Stays with Me 5 July 2008
By Dr. Gabriella Kadar - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is the first book written by an economist that I have ever read. I always had a rather stereotyped preconceived notion that books by economists are either incomprehensible or sleep inducing or both.

Quelle Suprise! and Lucky lucky me! Professor Fogel has impressed the hell out of me.

Not only is this book a masterpiece of scholarship but it is absolutely rivetting. I could not put it down! There isn't a day that goes by when something learned from this book comes up through connections I make in regards to other subjects I learn or read about.

For example, the New York Times had an article before Christmas about 18th and 19th century French peasants spending their winter months in bed, sleeping as much as possible, only getting up to feed and water their animals. I remembered from Prof. Fogel's book that the French peasants never had enough to eat to grow to optimum body height and build. Of course they'd spend the coldest months 'hibernating'. They needed to save whatever food they had on basic survival.

I could go on and on but prefer to write a review and not rewrite the book.

I know it's a big concept and a big word, but for me this is a seminal work. Thanks Professor Fogel.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9744d348) out of 5 stars Every on should read this fantastic work of Fogel! 27 Oct. 2013
By Ins Recherche Clinique - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You cannot imagine what is the west if you don't read this book! Our history was a matter of survival until recently and the civilization of wealth.
HASH(0x96943804) out of 5 stars Three Stars 8 Oct. 2015
By Feld - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although it is very thorough, the graphs are sometimes a bit confusing
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