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The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved so That Millions Could Live

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4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  175 ratings  ·  44 reviews
What does it feel like to starve? To feel your body cry out for nourishment, to think only of food? How many fitful, hungry nights must pass before dreams of home-cooked meals metastasize into nightmares of cannibalism? Why would anyone volunteer to find out?

In The Great Starvation Experiment, historian Todd Tucker tells the harrowing story of thirty-six young men who wi...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Free Press (first published 2006)
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Kathy
Fascinating book. I read it because I knew about the experiment because one of my uncles took part in it. He was a conscientious objector during World War II. He never told me a lot of detail, but when I objected to eating rice at a family reunion once, he took me aside and told me how really good rice tasted when it was all you got. So, I was thrilled to find some of his journals quoted in the book. (Look for Lester Glick.) But it's is so interesting to realize how widespread these human experi...more
ahdid
Heavy on history and biography of the doctor and those who starved, not on the actual findings and ethics of the overall project, which is what I was more interested in.
Jafar
For me this book was a lot longer that it needed. I was mainly interested in the year-long experiment and its results and observations, but instead the book is very heavy on the biographical anecdotes about the supervising doctor and the 36 pacifist conscientious objectors who volunteered for this starvation experiment instead of fighting in World War II. Not to be callous, but I really don’t care where these people were born and who their fathers were and which schools they went to. The book wa...more
J
During WWII the world did not have guidelines for human medical experimentation, prisoners and other undesirable members of society were often experimented upon without their consent. Dr. K, had a group of volunteers, conscientious objectors, young men who needed to feel they contributed something to the recovery in Europe, who wanted to do more, who wanted to be able to say they did something ‘honorable’ during the war. They volunteered to be starved and studied for a year. Dr. K’s experiment i...more
Frodo
I spent two years working in the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota where these starvation experiments occurred.
What an enjoyable read this book was for me. Although I wasn't there until the 60's, Dr. Keys and his staff from the 40's were still active.
Todd Tucker has done a masterful job of catching the essence of this experiment and bringing to life the story of these men and Dr. Keys as they courageously starved for humanity's good. I greatly appreciate the opp...more
Jessica
Overall it was a good book but it wasn't what I was expecting. It gave a great amount of detail and background about the history of the doctor who was conducting this experiement as well as each of the subjects. It also went into great detail about the war, starvation in general and the holocaust. In fact that made up the bulk of the book. I was hoping for a more indepth exploration of the actual experiment. In this area I felt the book was sorely lacking. It is a great book about starvation in...more
Charlotte
Some quick thoughts because I want to get back to studying for calculus...

- Ancel Keyes is an asshole but at least he was a brilliant asshole.
- I enjoyed how Tucker discussed starvation in the context of the historical happenings at the time and why this experiment was so necessary, considering its ethics are questionable.
- I find this is also fascinating to analyze for a psychological view point as well, considering the men basically volunteered to have an eating disorder.
Tammy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jerrine Regester
The stories of the conscientious objectors this read focused on were immensely interesting, as was the controlled starvation and rehabilitation experiment itself. Most fascinating to me was the mental deterioration and restoration of the men throughout the experiment. These men thought of nothing but food during the starvation phase ~ even their lofty moral code to help those who starved during WW II to health again was lost in their desire for only food. For the most part, the other basic needs...more
John Kaufmann
What a find. I was just browsing through the library and saw this title pop out (I have an interest in food security issues). I'd had never heard of the book or the experiment which it describes, but it sounded kind of interesting. Was it ever! Thoroughly engaging - you can almost feel the young men's craving for food, and identify with their attempts to sneak off base and get some. You get a real sense for the powerful tug food and hunger have on our psyches. Well-written, story-style history.
Rainbowgardener
Reading this book is like going to a sideshow, horrible and creepy in a way that you can't take your eyes off. The story of 36 CO's in WWII who volunteered to be starved for 6 mos so scientists could study the effects of starvation and then rehabilitation. Book is very weird, because it mentions that at the same time the war crimes trials of Dr Mengele and others were going on, it mentions that this "experiment" could not be done today. But it makes very little of the fact that these idealistic...more
Jennifer
As a history major, I love finding stories that show me just how ignorant I am of significant historical events. This book explains an interesting and important experiment conducted during WWII.
For some men, fighting was just not an option (some for religious or political reasons). These conscientious objectors were asked to participate in a study, overseen by the doctor who invented the "K-ration", that would focus on starvation. The government was looking for a credible solution in case we ha...more
Andrea
Interesting book on a little-known study conducted during WWII on 36 men who offered themselves as volunteers to study the effects of starvation and the best way to rehabilitate starvation victims.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment, given that only 2-3 chapters really deal with the experiment itself, its ethical implications, etc. The others deal with historical context (which is very interesting, but I could've read a history book if that was what I was looking for), history of sta...more
Kelton Baker
What a fascinating historical narrative. I felt moved by the story as these men had to literally starve and still try to preserve some normalcy in their sequestered lives. Lots of historical and scientific facts that I doubtfully would have learned anywhere but through this book, such as how the men were all convinced that their cognitive powers to think and reason were diminished while starving, yet this was proven false, This book made me want to go search through scientific sources for more i...more
Alisha Natasha Annandale
What a fascinating book! It only took me a few days to read, because I was glued to every chapter!
I found this book to be highly interesting, moving, and educational.
The Starvation Experiment, at times, made me a little teary eyed as I saw the whole thing through the minds/eyes of the 'guinea pigs'.
I loved every second of the book, and really feel as though it's taught me a lot.
For 1, low calorie diets are not the way forward in the modern day world, despite the medias constant 'quick fix' a...more
Elizabeth
This was a good introduction to Keys' work but as a dietitian/nutritionist I really want to read his original research. I am tempted to buy his original writings from Amazon even though they are a little pricy.
Christen
Jan 26, 2008 Christen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Christen by: Amazon
This book was very interesting. I had never heard of this experiment, yet it is the only one of it's kind to ever take place. So many things in medicine and science are based on the results of this experiment. It was difficult to read the effects of the men and how they suffered; the condition they were in, was similar to anorexia nervosa. The pictures were interesting and I am glad they were included. I think the beginning of the book contained a little "filler", but overall, a very good, inter...more
Megan
Dec 14, 2007 Megan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: not sure
this book examines a little-known experiment during WWII where a large group of healthy young men volunteered to undergo starvation so that researchers could learn how to most effectively rehabilitate those in concentration camps. it was a groundbreaking study at the time, as very little was known about the effects of starvation, particularly on mental health. the study has been recuperated by feminists who point to it as proof that anorexia is a gendered disorder only because women are encourag...more
Ann Carpenter
A fascinating look at the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, written in an eminently readable style.
Sarah Howard
My great uncle was apart is this book. I look forward to reading about it.
Kim
One Sentence Summary: Near the end of WWII, 36 young men volunteered to starve themselves as part of an experiment to understand the basics of human nutrition needs.

One Sentence Review: The book is at it’s strongest when focusing on the experiment and the experiences of the subjects, but loses some momentum when it tries to step out and address too many large issues.

Read the rest of my review at my blog, Sophisticated Dorkiness.
Shannon
Interesting in two very distinct ways:

It's a great summary of the conscientious objectors' program during WWII. I had heard the term but didn't know what it was. These aren't men who simply didn't want to fight, they had very valid reasons to not put on a uniform. That didn't mean that these men weren't patriotic. In fact, they were "volunteered" for some difficult and important work throughout the world.

Clearly the experiment was the folcus of the book. Very interesting from both scientific an...more
Allison
This was a quick, easy read! I was compelled to read it by my friend Betty, who is 95, and whose husband worked as a liaison for this experiment during his term as a conscientious objector during WWII. Interesting commentary toward the end on the Nuremberg code, which this experiment preceded -- although the code clearly did not protect US citizens from future egregious experiments! (Read: Tuskegee, etc.).
Robert Ivone
A unique topic, accounting the only known experiment studying voluntary starvation; the participants are conscientious objectors to WWII who wanted to still assist humanity in a time of distress. This book provides the excruciating details of a one-year study with a focus on how to best rehabilitate starved populations in post-war periods. Full of knowledge and insight.
Karen
Dec 22, 2007 Karen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in COs or medical history
Fascinating. In a few places it didn't read so well, since it is non-fiction trying to read as a story. Sometimes he'd diverge from the main characters to give background of the medical situation at the times, which was probably necessary but made it not read so smoothly. Nevertheless, it was interesting both from a human and a medical perspective.
Angela
The book made for interesting reading and gave insight into both the time and what severe caloric deprivation can do both to one's mind and body. The book was not well edited, there were typos and misspellings which made me think that if those kinds of mistakes made it through the editing process how accurate were the author's facts.
Kevin
A more specific book on the Minnesota Experiment (as opposed to the Biology of Human Starvation). Reads like a story vs a scientific memoir. I would have been happy with even more scientific details but it was very good at giving descriptions of the mood and emotions to contrast the nutritional events.
Rachael Steil
Good information and history on the experience and time period, although I was more interested in the experiment itself. Still a well-written book, and I especially loved the introduction. Tucker did a great job giving insight to the people experiencing the experiment with dialogue and feelings.
Pamela
Wow...its amazing the ways we get information on the human body, and what is ethical and unethical. This is a fasicinating book that deals with what could be very boring experimental data. Loved it!
Kelsey
A group of WWII conscientious objectors is enlisted in an experiment where they are starved and then brought back to health in order to determine how to best revive civilian war victims.


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