Sell yours for a Gift Card
We'll buy it for $2.00
Learn More
Trade in now
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

Famine: A Short History Hardcover – April 5, 2009

See all 2 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
$40.05 $7.53

Award-Winning Historians
Browse books by celebrated historians including Joseph J. Ellis, Lawrence Wright, and more. Learn more

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Author and University College Dublin economics professor Ó Gráda (Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce, Black '47 and Beyond) examines the causes of famine, from Biblical times to the present, in order to refute Parson Malthus' still-influential 1798 contention that unchecked population growth leads to famine. In case after case, (the Great Irish famine of the late 1840s, the Nazi blockade of Leningrad, etc.), Ó Gráda finds price spikes, crop failures, climate change, floods, droughts, civil strife and other factors behind devastating food shortages. While the effects of famine are horrible-including not just mass sickness and death but infanticide and child abandonment-the corresponding population decrease reverses relatively quickly, as compared to the effects of chronic malnutrition (associated to higher long term death rates and reduced fertility). History shows that famines "have nearly always been a hallmark of economic backwardness" rather than overpopulation, and Ó Gráda expresses "tempered optimism" that famines will continue a pattern of decline. This persuasive argument for global development is intricate enough to satisfy policy wonks but written with a larger audience in mind.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

"This is why Cormac Ó Gráda's latest book is so surprising. He is an optimist. According to him, famines are becoming less common. Even better: they will probably decline in frequency even further. Is it time to declare famine history? Ó Gráda says 'yes'. This is a thesis not to be lightly dismissed. Ó Gráda is a distinguished economic historian. He is the world's foremost authority on the Irish economy, and has written eloquently on the Great Famine of the late 1840s, in which around one million Irish men and women died. Furthermore, this book is packed with facts, all eloquently presented. Although it is a compact little book with generous margins, it is truly global in nature and spans the period from the beginning of written history to the present."--Joanna Bourke, The Times (UK)

"Cormac Ó Gráda's indelible new book Famine: A Short History emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between famine and a plethora of other social ills, including crime, slavery, infanticide, and prostitution."--Evan R. Goldstein, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Despite its modest title this is an impressive book. . . . Apart from the author's encyclopaedic knowledge, this book is distinguished by its attention to detail, insistence on evidence to back up arguments, and clever structure, which enables the reader to engage easily with cutting-edge arguments about the nature and evolution of famine. It is likely to become the standard academic text on the subject, but its accessible style, clarity and illustrations make it of much wider interest and significance."--Pádraig Carmody, The Irish Times

"This persuasive argument for global development is intricate enough to satisfy policy wonks but written with a larger audience in mind."--Publishers Weekly

"This is an excellent book for any student, researcher, or policy maker interested in famine, food scarcity, or hunger."--Choice

"Regarded as Ireland's premier economic historian even before the publication in 1999 of his widely praised Black '47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory, Cormac Ó Gráda of the University of Dublin created tremors of anticipation with the highly publicized Famine: A Short History, which establishes him more securely as a scholar in command of the field as a whole."--Harold V. Cordry, Foreword Magazine

"Cormac Ó Gráda's book deals with some of the grimmest episodes of human suffering to be recorded. And yes, the author's style is concise and direct. But the book, while always engrossing, is anything but ghoulish or sensationalised and its sociopolitical lessons are relevant to many of the gravest problems facing the world today."--Roy Williams, The Australian

"Gripping stuff."--Tom Jaine, The Guardian (UK)

"This is an excellent book. Whether you need a quick reference or a textbook on famine or you wish to study a specific aspect, this book is the place to start."--Violetta Hionidou, BBC Magazine

"So far, the classic steeds of the Apocalypse--War, Pestilence, Death--gallop apace in the current millennium. The one exception is Famine. In his fascinating, disturbing new book, Famine: A Short History, economist Cormac Ó Gráda examines the robust evidence that the third horseman is faltering, and considers whether he might indeed be hobbled and consigned to history. . . . Ó Gráda is a nimble and sophisticated thinker."--Karen Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"And as Ó Gráda notes in a lengthy case study, even the people of a country prone to famine, Bengalis, were, in one of their worst famines, the 'unwitting, colonial casualties of a struggle not of their making--that against fascism.' And however distant that past may seem as markets grow ever more integrated and crisis response ever more rapid, Ó Gráda warns that without peace and good governance, we will never have a famine free world."--Zocalo Public Square

"This book will be of great interest to the general and to the specialist reader and both will find many passages of interest to them. It is well written, easy to read, and provides an excellent introduction to the field. It is especially strong in presenting empirical data from many sources to deal with relevant analytic questions."--L. H. Lumey, European Journal of Population

"[Ó Gráda's] work is an extraordinary addition to the famine literature and should be of much interest to both consumers and producers of famine scholarship. Ó Gráda's ability to tackle a very difficult subject in an engaging manner will especially be useful to students and scholars who want a quick but comprehensive overview of famine."--William J. Moon, Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal

"The book's greatest and invaluable contribution deals with the demographics of famine. Ó Gráda has vast knowledge and expertise in this field and here provides an indispensable synthesis. . . . This is an extremely significant observation, both for historical understanding and for contemporary policy."--Dana Simmons, Journal of Modern History

"Famine . . . has a good mix of detail and overview. As an accessible multidisciplinary survey, it may be useful to specialists--historians, social scientists, development workers, economists--as well as lay readers."--Danny Reviews

"It is a must for agricultural economists who work in agencies providing development assistance. And it will inform a much wider audience of agricultural and social scientists who grapple with the technical and ethical dilemmas of malnourishment and periodic starvation that still persist in an affluent world."--Roger Mauldon, Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Hero Quick Promo
Today Only: Up to 80% Off Popular Summer Reads on Kindle
Today only, get books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Brad Meltzer, Amy Tan, Jane Green, and more at up to 80% off. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691122377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691122373
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,749,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
See all 3 customer reviews
Share your thoughts with other customers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Famine - A Short History by Cormac O Grada traces the history of famine from Biblical times to the present day. In the final chapter he offers some views on the future of famine that may be summed up as qualified hope.

This book is a timely reminder that famine still stalks the world, although not on the scale of the Chinese famine of 1959-61, or the Bengal famine of 1942-44, which killed tens of millions. Even Europe experienced famines in Holland and Greece during World War 2. Most people, however probably associate famine with Africa, which O Grada nominates as the last region of endemic famine in the world..

Famines are intensely political events. Governments often have a vested interest in down-playing the number of deaths, while opponents at home and abroad often exaggerate them. Deaths claimed in the great Chinese famine of 1959-61 range from zero (the government denied any famine existed and covered up its impact) to 50 million. Credible estimates range from 15 - 25 million.

Famine has also become "feminised." It is often claimed that more women than men die in famines. O Grada discusses compelling data from many famines that show quite the reverse - more men die than women. As one investigator put it "husbands will very generally rather starve than see their wives starve before them." He goes on to discuss the physiological evidence that helps explain the higher famine mortality of men.

It is also widely believed that famine kills predominantly the very young and the elderly. However, a carefully study of the actual data does not justify such an over-generalisation to include every famine.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a nice concise survey of famine by the noted economic historian Cormac O Grada. O Grada aims at describing what constitutes a famine, how famines occur, and the historical evolution of famine. A major point is O Grada's rebuttal of the simple Malthusian idea that famine is the inevitable result of subsistence crises. O Grada presents much more sophisticated analyses indicating that high population densities and food insecurity are risk factors rather than determinants of famine. The coincidence of other factors, notably human caused events like war or the actions of totalitarian states, combined with poor harvests are usually needed to cause famines. O Grada shows that the relative importance of these factors is historically dynamic. In pre-industrial societies, population pressures, weather events, harvest success are more important drivers of famine. In modern societies, increased agricultural productivity and more efficient transportation have made human controlled events like war and governmental action more important determinants of famine. O Grada argues well that potential for famine has decreased significantly over the last century with rising standards of living and increased agricultural productivity in many parts of the world, efficient transportation networks, and international organizations aimed at ameliorating famine. In general, O Grada sees the economic globalization and growth of the last century as a very positive force in reducing famine incidence. O Grada doesn't, however, address the interesting argument of Mike Davis (Late Victorian Holocausts), that the destruction of traditional agriculture in India and other colonies during the second half of the 19th century greatly increased famine risk in some regions.Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ROROTOKO on August 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Famine" is on the ROROTOKO list of cutting-edge intellectual nonfiction. Professor O'Grada's book interview ran here as cover feature on May 25, 2009.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?