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The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  282 ratings  ·  49 reviews
In The End of Plenty, award-winning environmental journalist Joel K. Bourne Jr. puts our fight against devastating world hunger in dramatic perspective. He travels the globe to introduce a new generation of farmers and scientists on the front lines of the next green revolution. He visits corporate farmers trying to restore Ukraine as Europe's breadbasket, a Canadian aquaculturist ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company (first published June 15th 2015)
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Antti Simola Feeding the World by Vaclav Smil is one. It is from 2000, so someone could consider it dated, but it nevertheless very nicely explains the background…moreFeeding the World by Vaclav Smil is one. It is from 2000, so someone could consider it dated, but it nevertheless very nicely explains the background and is fairly strong on commenting the data. The approach is closer to physical sciences.

Giovanni Federico also has a book entitled Feeding the World, which nicely explains the recent history (1800-2000), and political-institutional developments. Much more academic than The End of Plenty.

Southgate, Graham, and Tweeten: The World Food Economy is also in the same category, but more on the textbook side.

Also check out 'Wizard and Prophet' by Charles C. Mann. That tells the Borlaug story in more detail.(less)

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Richard Reese
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nothing is more precious than balance, stability, and sustainability. Today, we’re hanging by our fingernails to a skyrocket of intense insane change, and it’s the only way of life we’ve ever known. Joel Bourne has spent his life riding the rocket. He grew up on a farm, and studied agronomy at college, but sharp changes were causing many farmers to go bankrupt. Taking over the family farm would have been extremely risky, so he became a writer for farm magazines. Later, he was hired by National G ...more
Emma Sea
Phew. I don't know enough about the background science to critique any of Bourne's conclusions, but I appreciated the 71 pages of extensively detailed sources in the notes.

I highly recommend Richard Reese's review.
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is easily the best book I've read in years! Since agriculture is often in the shadows in our society, it's great to a read a book that describes the history and present state of modern agriculture so well and it's centrality to a stable society. Since I see and talk about obesity so much, I forget how much of the world is food insecure even today and the potential for things to get much worse.

Although we seem to live in a post agricultural society, Bourne reminds us we ignore fo
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Want to see something depressing?
Here's a chart tracking the expected growth of how much maize, rice, wheat, and soybean we can grow (thick lines) and how much of these we actually need if the world population keeps on growing like it does (dotted lines)

Fun, isn't it? Now look at the y-axis - wheat yields have to be around 4 tons per hectar. Note: This graph does not account for climate change.

Source: Ray et al., 2013, Yield Tr
This book should be required reading for all humans. It looks at the challenge we face of feeding a growing global population off a limited amount of arable land amidst climate change without further wrecking the planet. Bottom line: we need to produce as much food in the next four decades as we have since the dawn of civilization.

It's a completely daunting and complicated problem, but Bourne works through it methodically, first outlining the broken promises of the Green Revolution and the extr
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bourne attempts to explain the complex topic of the human challenge of feeding ourselves on a finite planet with an increasing population and the looming menace of drought and coastal land loss from climate change. It's not a pleasant prospect, and he does a good job of explaining the scope of the challenge and the countless obstacles to success.
The start and the finish are the best parts, as Bourne uses the early population scientist Thomas Malthus as his focus to set the stage and then final
Sean Goh
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: apocalyptic, science
After reading this, one will be more inclined to waste less food, and maybe eat less meat? We may not feel the pressures of not having enough to eat yet, but with business as usual food pressure may soon become our reality. Maslow's hierarchy is very real.
Though I love my profession and believe it is fundamental to a functioning democracy, a nation can survive without journalists. It cannot last a day without farmers.

Three plants (wheat, rice and corn) provide directly
Meredith Watts
Aug 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A farmer boy, majoring in agronomy in college, who then went to the Columbia School of Journalism, the author Joel Bourne is the perfect person to write a book on this pressing problem. He resurrects Malthus's stained reputation, and makes his population theory crystal clear: all other things being equal, the availability of food will control population growth. Period. It's true that Malthus did not anticipate the hybrid seeds and the petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides that made possible t ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has informed me tremendously and has left me soul searching about the deterrent that capitalism is to our ability to feed the world. Every nation needs people willing to stand up to business and say the buck stops here. I kept notes that will make me feel more confident when I share my 'voice' with Canadian leaders.
*Food is a moral right, the first component of social justice
*Hunger and food availability are used as political weapons
*Clinton's rice policy in Haiti which he
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, along with This Changes Everything, should be required reading for everyone.

A fascinating and well-written insight into food production, some of which I found surprising, some frustrating, some shocking. I knew little bits and pieces of what's in this book, but am glad to have had the satisfying experience of having it all placed into the big picture, so I now feel like I have a much better understanding of many issues. While this book is downright frightening in some ways, the autho
Sim Hanscamp
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book I've read in a while. Appreciated the commentary on the wide variety of considerations, historical, different geographical locations (china, africa, india to name a couple) and that the author discusses in a mature fairly non-biased lens. It is reasonable discussion (in this way, Naomi Klein's style of argumentative writing comes a little to mind)... often neglected agricultural factors are considered and also factors on economics, politics & impacts for development. Woo hoo - this ...more
Geoff Balme
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Possibly the most important book you can read on the current crises facing our species. This is no joke. Joel Bourne also offers us some lights at the end of the doom tunnel. Not surprisingly GMOs, Organic Farming systems, family-planning, and worldwide education, as well as equal rights for women the world over top the bill for our continued satisfactory existence.

it's a scary book, full of facts and figures, but the story is not one that we can ignore.
Lauren Schnoebelen
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
There were a wide variety of topics within agriculture that this book really went into. I found myself knowing a good portion of them from past articles and books I've read but there were others like the Malawi Miracle that I wasn't aware of. Each chapter went into depth on a specific area of concern in agriculture; whether it be GMOs, organic farming or irrigation concerns, but at the same time, it did a very good job of weaving all the information together. Additionally, in the beginning of th ...more
Maureen Caupp
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting and at times troubling account of the extremely challenge facing us as we try to feed a quickly growing population with the added complication of climate change and not destroying the environment for future generations in the process. Through lots of research Bourne has brought together and described many issues and possible solutions. Scary but also hopeful with stories of farmers and scientists working together to try to help solve the problem. Ultimately the earth can only ...more
Fred Rose
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reading as possible inclusion into a course on Science policy. Overall I liked this book, I thought it covered the issued around agriculture and growing food in a fairly balanced way. The author is an agronomist, so that helps in more authentic and realistic writing. The story is a narrative both of his own travels and interviews, and a historical narrative around Norman Borlaug. The end part of the book covers a variety of interesting new paths (probably all of which we need, there is no silver ...more
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an important read as face an administration that is determined to reverse policies that we need to keep living on Earth sustainable.

In this case, the challenge is feeding a world with a rapidly rising population and an environment under increasing stress.

This book is an excellent combination of hard science, anecdotes, history and commentary. Very readable and compelling.

I wish more people, especially policy makers, had these issues in mind when they m
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I wasn’t familiar with the work of an agronomist, but was immediately drawn in to the author’s way of thinking about his work, the planet, and our future. Much of the book moved at a good pace with good story arcs and lots of examples and anecdotes; I appreciated the quick summary and recommendations at the end. This book inspired quite a few conversations with friends and colleagues and I’ve recommitted to some of his recommendations.
Lab Cat
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I struggled with this book. Initially i was impressed with the detail and his emphasis on science. however there was a niggling feeling that there was too much emphasis on population control without any serious discussion on education.

despite this I still think this book is a good introduction to agriculture abd it's relevance to being able to feed a growing population in a world afflicted with climate change.
Richard Rossi
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a solid work of journalism that reviews the current state and outlook for feeding the world's rapidly growing population. The takeaway is that the outlook is grim for a complicated interacting set if facts. Read the book only if for some reason you are interested in all the many factors that underlie the pending global food shortage.
Francis Kilkenny
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A clarion call on our vulnerable but destructive agricultural systems. Radical shifts in agricultural practice will need to occur for civilization to keep feeding people. This book surveys both the problems and the promise inherent in modern agriculture.
A.Y. Barker
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those who know nothing of agronomy (as did I), this is a great introductory book on the subject. Picked this up at the library because of the cover and the title. Glad I did. Not my favorite read, but this book is certainly well-researched and well-informed.
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great read. This book should be mandatory reading for politicians, government economists and city and state planners. Food sustains us, so it is imperative that we learn more about how to sustain the supply of food as the world population grows minute by minute.
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wake up world, we need to take responsibility for our Earth.
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book presents a confronting view on how science and technology advances; and excessive farming, consumption and population; have ravaged the world's natural resources.
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment
A very good look at how our eco-systems are being affected by over-population and over-consumption.
Sara Kemmer
Oct 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Informative, recommend for everyone to read especially with all the political talk of climate lately, these are the real facts!
Nov 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
End of Plenty caught my eye at the library, because food and water security are issues that really bother me. I like to eat and drink, because it's kind of important for living. And I believe food and drink are basic human rights. So I picked up this book and started reading. The first few chapters struck me as extremely familiar-- I'd read Bourne's National Geographic article a few years back that was either part of his research for this book or the start of it. The book was, by virtue of format, able to go in ...more
Jun 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: story, character
Reading this books is a mix of despair and hope, with the balance towards despair, but even a small amount of hope can be powerful. There are many accounts of squandering agricultural resources, of misusing land, and of poisoning. This book takes us through accounts from many places in the world, showing agricultural practices which do not work in the long term, despite some amazing short term benefits, and also looks at other practices which may be more sustainable The importance of long term t ...more
Richard Duncan
Aug 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-the-nook
A well-researched and impressive look at the difficulties of providing food for the earth's expanding population. The author looks at the "green revolution" created by scientists and large seed and chemical companies beginning in the 60's, as well as various newer attempts to increase the food supply, including organic farms and aquaculture. He is both a journalist and an agronomist, and grew up on a farm, so he has a real understanding of the benefits and problems of modern corporate agricultur ...more
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Joel K. Bourne Jr. has a BS in agronomy from North Carolina State University and an MS in journalism from Columbia University. A contributing writer for National Geographic, he has written for Audubon, Science, and Outside, among others. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.
“The world contains more than 50,000 edible plants, but only three—wheat, rice, and corn—directly or indirectly (through livestock feed) provide 80–90 percent of all the calories that humans consume.” 1 likes
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