Mel's Reviews > Hunger: An Unnatural History

Hunger by Sharman Apt Russell
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Aug 08, 08

bookshelves: nonfiction

Sharman Apt-Russell’s book Hunger: an Unnatural History is a compelling study of an intimidating topic. Apt-Russell approaches her subject matter methodically; her poetic use of language engages the reader on every page despite the large sections of text devoted to scientific study and research.
The combination of research and personal commentary is a daunting undertaking. As is the combination of scientific jargon and emotional reaction to information, and yet Apt-Russell does so skillfully. Perhaps this is because her subject matter demands scientific inquiry and could not be more personal to each and every living thing: hunger.
The insight the text offers sends shivers down the spine and stands the hair on end: “At the same time, the icon of children in famine is a Western bias. In many of the places where extreme hunger exists, the survival of adults might be viewed as more important. . . . In famine, a focus on women and children highlights biology: here is a mother who cannot feed her child, a breakdown of the natural order of life.” Readers react in a visceral way to this statement, but Apt-Russell goes on, “This focus obscures who and what is to blame for the famine, politically and economically, and can lead to the belief that a biological response, more food, will solve the problem” (179). Where does the reader take responsibility? Can we stop hunger without addressing other—less biologically necessary—processes? It leaves the reader wondering what sort of disease in human society causes hunger and famine. A critical read should lead the reader to a desire—a hunger for more knowledge. Yet, it is through her soft poetic language that Apt-Russell presents the hard truths about our world.
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