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Hunger: An Unnatural History Paperback – September 5, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465071651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465071654
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Russell's playful survey of the effects of hunger, which moves inexorably toward a wider moral meditation on starvation, suggests, "Hunger is a country we enter every day, like a commuter across a friendly border." Observing that "not eating seems to be innately religious," Russell (Anatomy of a Rose) explores the biochemical and cultural dimensions of hunger, from the stunts of "hunger artists" to the practices of fasting ascetics and so-called "miracle maids" (virginal women who appeared not to require food), touching on her own abortive experience of fasting. Turning to the history of political protest, Russell describes the force-feeding of British suffragettes and the strategic fasts of Mahatma Gandhi. She captures the limits of human cruelty and frailty in detailing the medical studies of starvation conducted in the Warsaw Ghetto; famine and cannibalism in the Ukraine and China; and the findings of the "Minnesota Experiment," which studied how semistarvation influences behavior. Addressing the stark facts of current world hunger, Russell reports on the medical challenges of reintroducing food to the chronically malnourished, on the iconic image of the starving child and on the efforts of humanitarian agencies to end world hunger. With its expert blend of scientific reportage, world history and moral commentary, Russell's work is informative and haunting. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–A fascinating, multilayered analysis. Russell describes the physiological effects of hunger, starting with what occurs in the digestive system while the subject is watching a commercial for the Olive Garden restaurant and ending with the bodys processing of the last bit of pasta and anchovy. Her discussion of the biological aspects is concise, interesting, and free from scientific jargon. After covering what happens when the body has food, Russell gives a sobering account of what occurs in the mind and body when food is withheld. Using fasting periods from 18 hours to 30 days, the author shows the extraordinary ways in which the deprived body tries to save itself. Her choices for the historical overview of hunger include hunger artists, religious and politically motivated fasting, therapeutic fasting, famines, experiments on starvation, anorexia, and efforts to combat world hunger. The short essays on the Warsaw Ghetto, the potato famine in Ireland, Colin Turnbulls studies of the Ik tribe, and the industrialization of China are so interesting and well written that they invite further research. This is an important topic for teens to explore. As Russell points out, one in 10 Americans lives in a food-insecure household. The lasting biological and psychological effects of hunger on children are critical.–Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

I am pleased to be considered a nature and science writer, although essentially I write about whatever interests me and seems important--living in place, archaeology, flowers, butterflies, hunger, and pantheism. I am now working on a project about citizen science and the study of the charismatic Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle. I'm also engaged in other programs like Nature Notebook and Celebrate Urban Birds. Citizen science is such an exciting field! You can transform yourself in a thousand ways, studying monarch butterflies or listening to whale songs or classifying galaxies...For more information on that, you can Like my Facebook author page Sharman Apt Russell.

Raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, in 1981 I settled in southern New Mexico as a "back to the lander" and have stayed there ever since. I am a longtime professor in the Humanities Department at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, as well as an associate faculty at Antioch University in Los Angeles. I received my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana and my B.S. in Conservation and Natural Resources from the University of California, Berkeley.

My essays and short stories have been widely published and anthologized. My collections of essays Songs of the Fluteplayer: Seasons of Life in the Southwest (Addison-Wesley, 1991; reprinted by University of Nebraska Press, 2000) won the 1992 Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award and New Mexico Zia Award and recounts my early years in rural New Mexico. Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist was a New Mexico Book Award finalist and one of Booklists' top ten religious books of 2008.

Hunger: An Unnatural History (Basic Books, 2005) was the result of a Rockefeller Fellowship at Bellagio, Italy, and An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect (Perseus Books, 2003) was a pick of independent booksellers in the Summer 2003 Book Sense 76. Anatomy of a Rose: Exploring the Secret Life of Flowers (Perseus Books, 2001) has been translated into eight languages.



My teaching philosophy is simple: my goal is to increase a student's authority as a writer. I am here to encourage and support that authority. I can help students better revise their work. I can teach students how to talk about writing with other writers. I can help them feel more centered in who they are as writers and why they write. I can serve as an editor and mentor. I can model a writer's life. As well as teaching at WNMU and Antioch, for the last fifteen years I have been a visiting writer at universities and colleges across the country. I currently teach all online classes at my own university and am free to travel.


Customer Reviews

I look forward to reading other books by this author, who seems to have a very wide range of interests.
R S Cobblestone
Ms. Russell begins the book talking about the "hunger artists" who were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Daniel Rodriguez
Most of us have never been hungry, I mean really hungry the way many of the people in this book have been hungry.
Dennis Littrell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By D. M. Purkiss on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A wonderfully written, rich, sweeping survey of hunger. many fine stories - some harrowing - finely told and thoughtfully examined. Only a few minor errors - colostrum is thick and yellowy, not thin and blue, for example, and there was little reference to recent work on the speed of metabolic recovery after low-calorie eating. But these should spoil the book for no-one; it was informative, elegant and clever, and I recommend it heartily.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. L. Epling on October 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This incredible book covers every aspect of hunger from your rumbling tummy to mass starvation. It includes science, history, anthropology, philosophy, hope and despair; topics such as anorexia nervosa, religious fasting, and hunger studies - both planned and imposed. The phrases grip you; the thoughts connect or clarify. The subject matter is so huge, so important and so well dealt with that I felt at every level that Hunger touches us all.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
Most of us have never been hungry, I mean really hungry the way many of the people in this book have been hungry. What Sharman Apt Russell does is show the reader just what it is like in a physical, mental, political and medical way to be hungry, very hungry.

She begins with the so-called "hunger artists" who performed feats of fasting for audiences while sometimes up in cages overlooking traveled boulevards. It seems fasting was a bit of a fad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She mentions literary fasters like the protagonist of Kalka's story "A Hunger Artist" and that of Knut Hamsun's splendid short autobiographical novel Hunger (1890). She also gives us the all-time champ, holder of the record in the Guinness Book of Records (last acknowledged in 1971; Guinness no longer records fasts because of the dangers involved). His name is Mr. A.B. and he weighed 456 pounds when he began. 382 days later he weighed 180 pounds.

Next she shows how our digestive system works and how it changes during food deprivation--what happens after 36 hours, 7 days, 30 days. The details about ghrelin and leptin, glucose and ketones are fascinating. Then she recalls famous hunger strikes including some very interesting material on the suffragettes, the Irish Republicans and Mahatma Gandhi. Then comes the horror of the Warsaw Ghetto and, amazingly enough, the work of Jewish doctors in the ghetto who took that gruesome opportunity to measure and study the steps toward death by starvation.

Russell reports on "The Minnesota Experiment" during World War II in which young male conscientious objectors volunteered to go on an extended starvation diet so that doctors would know how to treat those in Europe and elsewhere after the war was over.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In marvelously non-technical fashion, Russell describes the biology of hunger: what happens to your body as you go eighteen hours, thirty-six hours, and thirty days without food. She shows how hunger strikes have changed the world (from Gandhi's non-violent strikes to the Irish Republican Army and British suffragettes), the role of fasting in myriad religious traditions, how hunger has defined certain traditional cultures, and even how hunger has been used as entertainment.

Some chapters illuminate fascinating chapters in the history of hunger. "The Hunger Disease Studies" narrates how internationally renowned Jewish scientists in the Warsaw Ghetto used the omnipresent starvation to perform scientific studies on every aspect of starvation, searching for meaning in terrible suffering. "The Minnesota Experiment" describes an enlightening study of starvation and refeeding during World War II. Russell casts her net wide, examining the social and biological aspects of anorexia, giving an inside view to famine relief in Somalia and Ethiopia, and showing how hunger affects children distinctly.

Russell's skilled prose makes even the World Health Organization's technical instructions on refeeding a malnourished child interesting. She reminds us that science is a kind of poetry. As with all the best non-fiction, her endnotes offer a wealth of fascinating literature on every aspect of hunger, a literature I'll be sure to dive into. As another reviewer wrote, Russell's writing "is an extraordinary mating of exciting, sure-footed science and inspired prose poetry" (Burlington Free Press, 10 August 2003).
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Format: Hardcover
Every day we wake up hungry and break a potential fast: but few have had the experience of real hunger. HUNGER takes a day-by-day tour of body and mind sans food, from Day 1 to a week or more without food. History, culture, and health concerns blend in a wide-ranging analysis of the different experiences of and influences on hunger, how it works physiologically, and more. A top pick not just for college collections, but for public libraries and general-interest readers.

Diane C. Donovan, Editor

California Bookwatch
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JC on February 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book kept my interest from beginning to end. Among other things, she talks about the difference between fasting and starvation, the religious tradition of fasting (periodically for some, supposedly constantly for a few "saints"), anorexia, and the results of constant hunger on people's minds, bodies, and especially behavior, whether they're volunteer experiments or real people in poor societies who are slowly starving to death. The latter stories, as well as information about famines in China, Ireland, and elsewhere, are sobering and sad. Naturally, these experiences are in such stark contrast to how most of we overfed Americans live, and I kept thinking of some of the constant exhortations you find in diet books like "never skip breakfast" or "don't eat foods such as carrots or potatoes because you'll gain weight more easily, eat low carb only." This book was a good reality check about that sort of advice. On an optimistic note, Ms. Russell also talks about the efforts of Dr. Steven Collins and others to help provide portable, nutrient rich foods to starving people, and that chapter ends very hopefully. I highly recommend this book.
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