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84 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your Kids Will Get A Whole New Perspective on "Stuff"
I discovered this one-of-a-kind book while paging through my favorite book catalog. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and bought it immediately for full price at my nearest bookstore (I NEVER pay full price - I was that excited!) On a cue from my catalog's annotation, I left it casually available in our family room. Within 10 minutes, my 9-year-old...
Published on March 20, 2000

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Global families
Yes i like this book and it is very interesting, but i was not as thrilled as i expected to be. There is something missing i can't put my finger on. The book was published in 1994, so it is 10 years old regarding the stats. I think the book is gloomy and not as joyous, true and timelessly representative of its subjects as it could have been.
Published 7 months ago by sian


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84 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your Kids Will Get A Whole New Perspective on "Stuff", March 20, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
I discovered this one-of-a-kind book while paging through my favorite book catalog. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and bought it immediately for full price at my nearest bookstore (I NEVER pay full price - I was that excited!) On a cue from my catalog's annotation, I left it casually available in our family room. Within 10 minutes, my 9-year-old "material girl" zoomed in on the large, glossy cover, and asked about the book. I played cool: "Just a new book I really like... it's about all kinds of families and what kinds of stuff they have." Warily sensing the "educational" angle, she left it untouched as I left the room. Ten minutes later, she impatiently called to her 6-year old sister: "Look at this picture! This is a real family and this is all their stuff, even their beds! Where's their car? Look at these 2 little Mexican girls buying Barbies!" Unable to resist the text by now, she amended: "Oh, they're just looking. They don't have money to buy them." A thoughtful pause followed. Were the darling kids in the picture the anonymous "poor people" they heard about so often at school? They don't look unhappy in the photos...they look just like a regular family. YES! CONNECTION! It took the 2-page "Toilets of the World" spread to hook their 8-year-old brother, but this book remains an unending source of fascination for all of us. I am making a list of families to buy it for. Please take my word on this: I love language, but Material World's pictures tell a story of common humanity that could never be conveyed the same way in words. Don't miss this book.
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96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, August 22, 2003
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This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
This book is a fantastic picture book and statistical reference of our world. Menzel's idea was brilliant- -to identify a statistically average family in every corner of the world, and photograph them and all of their belongings, as well as capture aspects of their daily life on film.
The book is organized by continent, and then by country within each continent. Each entry begins with a multi-page photo of the family in front of their house, with of all their possessions. Beside the photo is an enumeration of the possessions that appear in the photo. The remainder of the article is found on the next 3 or 4 pages. There is usually a short summary of statistics about the country, covering such topics as area, population, population density, life expectancy, and rank of affluence among U.N. member countries. But much more informative are a variety of high-quality color photos showing family members going about their daily activities, at work, at school, or eating a meal in the family home. There is a brief text about the family itself, who they are, what they do, and where they live. The photographer also provides a brief summary of his or her experiences while living with the family and taking the photographs. In the photographer's notes are statistics about the work week, the number of radios, telephones, televisions, VCRs, and automobiles. The photographer also asks each family member to identify their most valued possessions and their dreams for the future.
The choice of the family to convey both the ideal and the reality of a typical "American" family was perfect. They have the requisite two children, one of each gender, and a dog. They are shown outside their ranch-style house, with a fairly new pickup truck and minivan in their attached garage. The photographer's idea of commandeering the entire cul-de-sac of the sub-development to showcase the family's possessions for the main photograph does an incredible job at capturing Americans' need for and use of space. (It makes an incredible contrast with the Japanese family, who have just as many possessions or even more, but are photographed with everything crammed together in a tiny block just the width of their house.) The picture of the American family appears on the cover of the book, juxtaposed with the family from Bhutan, with their house and meager possessions perched on a mountainside with no roads in sight. Despite the innumerable differences between the families, there are also many parallels. Both families are obviously proud of what they have and who they are. And in these pictures, and throughout the book, over and over again throughout the world, the family members identify religious objects as their most valued possessions.
In addition to the main chapters, the book also includes short features on televisions of the world, meals of the world, and toilets of the world, as well as appendices with more statistics, contributing photographers' biographies, and a list of more possessions that couldn't be included in the photographs.
Through its photographs, this book does an amazing job at explaining who we are as a human family, and how we are all similar. It also lets us know what life is like for average people around the world, and does a better job at this than any simple listing of statistics or geography text. When I read this book for the first time, I laughed, and even cried upon seeing how little some people in the world actually have to call their own. This was especially moving when I remembered that each family was chosen not because it was picturesque or poverty-stricken, but because it was statistically average. This book should be in every public library, it could be used by homeschoolers as a geography text, but everyone will find something of interest in it. It is one of the 10 most personally influential books that I have read.
If reading this book isn't enough for you, the project also produced a multimedia CD-ROM with added features and a series of children's books with more photographs and information for children about each family. An even more moving sequel called "Women of the Material World" is also available and highly recommended.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just about material differences, October 19, 2000
By 
ReaderFromAK (Anchorage, AK United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
This book was a required "textbook" in a high school "Science and Sustainability" pilot class my school did in junior year. I remember we generally used the books in class but could check them out to take home if we wanted. I checked one out and din't want to give it back. I think I skipped two classes that day just sitting in the student lounge poring over it, and I think the people reading over my shoulder probably had other things to do as well, but I couldn't put it down, it was so fascinating. So of course I bought my own and I can still pick it up and pore over it for another three hours with the same fascination. It's real life, and the families are real people that you feel somehow close to after reading this. I love this book and show it to everyone. This book will change the way you look at things. Also, for those who think that this book is primarily about material goods around the world, you couldn't be more wrong. Each chapter shows an incredibly detailed portrait of life in another country, and is as wonderful for introducing kids to other cultures as it is for opening their eyes to economic realities. Enjoy.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, June 12, 2002
This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
"Material World" is one of those books that EVERYONE should read. It really is beyond description...deceptively simply yet incredibly moving in its stark simplicity. In these pages about families across the globe, we see scenes from their everyday life. When we glance at the pictures of each family on their lawn surrounded by all of their material goods, the difference between the average American family and the average Ethiopian family couldn't be plainer. We look at the faces on these pages, hear their thoughts on the future, and compare their lives to our own...and suddenly the people in other countries seem real to us, and the faceless people of the news suddenly have faces and thoughts and homes and families. Peter Menzel and all of the others who have worked on this book have done a brilliant and wonderful thing when they created "Material World". They have done what no "You should be grateful..." or "Think of those people in other countries..." could have done...they have made the world real to us.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent idea, well executed, June 27, 2000
What does the average Ethiopian home look like? What is the average Cuban family's hope for the future? How much does a carrot cost on the black Market in Bosnia? Which country has the highest fish consumption per capita? What does the average Japanese father have for breakfast?
It may seem trivial, but these are the questions that Peter Menzel and the creators of "Material World" have tried to answer. And the answers they found are more profound than you might think. 30 very different countries, and 16 excellent photographers, trying to show through images, statistics and interviews how the world's average families live. The differences are astonishing: the financially average Abdullah family in Kuwait is both literally and figuratively a world removed from the Cakonis in Albania.
In this book, created to celebrate the United Nations International Year Of The Family, sumptuous photographs, show each family with their material possessions spread around them outside their homes: while one family's material wealth seems to consist almost entirely of carpets, another's is made up of animals and cooking pots. One family has four cars, another a single and ragged looking donkey. More photographs show each family in the course of the average day, and coupled with data based on interviews, they answer questions such as: do the children go to school? Where does their food come from? What does their house look like? And most tellingly, what is their most treasured possession? More light hearted sections, which explore average televisions, toilets and meals across the world, show at once how alike and different we are.
The creators of "Material World" have sought, and achieved a fine balance. They contrast not only those countries which we know to be rich or poor, but also look at how other factors, such as war and technology, affect families. The information is implicit rather than explicit, conveyed only through the images and words of each family; while the photographers' impressions are expressed in small "photographer's notes" sections, their main function is simply to show us the real lives of their subjects. No judgements are passed, nor opinions given. The reader is left to examine the evidence for themselves.
"Material World" works on many levels. The quality of photography and the compilation of each section make it beautiful to look at - a smart and very PC coffee table book. The statistical information and photographs together provide a wealth of material for use in schools. Flipping backwards and forwards to explore the differences yourself is as much fun as "Where's Waldo", and the writing is so good that "Material World" is a great book to snuggle up with and read. I can only pick one fault with this book: the more trivial statistical data is not always consistent. For example, data on percentages of income spent on food is only available for some families, making comparison impossible. However, this is a small fault. "Material World" is a fantastic book, original, interesting and well put together. Highly recommended to anyone with even a slight interest in the subject.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars invaluable and fascinating, February 15, 2010
By 
Laksmi (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
I thought my six-year-old daughter might be interested in this book, as she liked What the World Eats (same authors, kids' version of Hungry Planet). It seemed like an accessible way to learn about daily life in other countries--especially important for understanding the earthquake in Haiti in human terms. But I wasn't prepared for how obsessed with it she would become. On first pass, she took inventory of each family (how many children, boys or girls, what ages); that in itself can be revealing. Then she started noticing more and more. She has spent hours pouring over the photographs, shown it to friends ("Toilets of the World" is especially worth sharing), brought it to bed with her, and even studied the table of demographical information in the back. I had no idea statistics on literacy and infant mortality would be so fascinating. It's beautiful, inviting, sobering, affirming, and raises all kinds of questions for discussion. This is the kind of book children could browse again and again over the years. Every family should have it around.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, February 5, 2004
By 
Laura (Portland, OR) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
This is a very interesting book--more like a written documentary--that explores the lives of families in a number of countries based mainly on their possessions. Beautiful photos accompany each section, including the "Big Picture," in which the family is photographed with all of its belongings. Country statistics are also included, as well as interviews with family members and daily life photos.
The value of each family's possessions, as well as the family's values (what's important to them, etc.) are stressed. However, I noticed that while standard of living may differ considerably, everyone, no matter their location, seems to want bascially the same thing: education, a better life for their children, security, etc. This realization was perhaps the best part of the book for me.
What also impressed me was the fact that this book is filled to the brim. There's no way to read it cover-to-cover, really. Instead, it's more of an experience. It must be taken in. Every time I pick it up, I see something differently, in a new light.
You don't have to be an economist or an anthropologist to enjoy this book. On the contrary, anyone who has any interest at all in the outside world would enjoy it. Because the photographers spent so much time with each family, I truly felt like I was transported to each country, like I had a more complete understanding of what it was like to live there.
The residents weren't just faceless, nameless inhabitants of a distant land but were brought to life. And since it was basically told in their own words, very little to no bias is able to come through. Lastly, I have to congratulate the authors for putting together a balanced portrait of life around the globe. The choices were well-made and quite diverse.
Highly recommended!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wealth of knowledge and understanding, January 14, 2011
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This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
When I first went to Accra, Ghana about seven years ago, I was surprised to find it was a modern city with glassy high-rise buildings, an extensive network of paved roads, restaurants, hotels, etc. I don't know what I was expecting - a country full of mud huts? But that experience was a real eye opener as to how little I know about the world outside the U.S. and Western Europe. And I'm hardly alone. I've now been to Ghana five times (I married a Ghanaian man) and each time I go people assume I'm either going on a mission trip or a safari. They're quite surprised when they learn that Accra is a city pretty much like any other.

Since that fateful trip, and especially now that I have two biracial daughters, I've made it my mission to learn more about the world as a whole, especially cultures I'd previously had little knowledge of. I've read extensively, but reading only goes so far. I wanted to see what life in other countries is actually like. Since I'll never have the money to travel everywhere, this book has been a godsend.

In honor of 1994's UN Year of the Family, photographer Peter Menzel, along with 16 other photographers, fanned out across the globe selecting one "statistically average" family from each of 30 countries on six different continents as a focus and a spotlight on life in that country. Each photographer lived with the host family for a week getting to know them and understand their lifestyle. At the end, each photographer did a photo shoot in which all the family's possessions were brought outside the house and photographed along with the entire household.

The resulting volume of photos, blurbs and statistics is a treasure trove of knowledge and understanding. Each family/country has a separate section which takes up about three full page spreads. Each section opens with the composite picture of the family and their possession, along with lists naming the family members and detailing the possessions. Some of those lists are quite long; others sadly very short. Each section also contains statistics about the country, explanations of the pictures, a blurb about the country, and the photographes observations and experiences. In addition to these individual sections, there are also pages showing side-by-side comparisons of certain aspects of life in all the country, such as a page showing TV sets from many different countries.

The photographs and the photographers' experiences really capture life for each family and allow for a great depth of understanding. The book is not written to arose either pity - "oh, look how little those poor people have" - or scorn - "look how much junk those Americans have" - but simply to promote understanding of differences. The photographers clearly have respect for each of the families they present. Each has wealth and treasures in their own way - in the richness of their family life if not in their possessions.

My four-year-old daughter also likes to look at the pictures in this book, particularly the African countries (we went to Ghana again about five months ago). She's not interested in much of the written information, but she's fascinated by the people, their houses, their food and their lives in general.

According to Amazon's rating system, five stars means "I love it". I wouldn't quite say I love it, but I do really, really like it. I'd give it 4.5 stars if Amazon would let me. Definitely recommended, especially for families with kids struggling with how much material possessions to buy for the kids. This book illustrates that material possessions are not the only form of wealth.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's the best give away book ever, October 5, 2005
By 
Jozef Van Hove (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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Every one who cares for the world and people must have this book. Every time I buy a copy and leave it on the table, friends come by and are amazed. It's a pleasure to give it away as a present because it's not like any ordinary book - it's a pleasure to receive it back again in the post...

Our children browse through it and are reading it and each time they come 'back to earth'. Really : it's a must have !!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a global portrait indeed, November 10, 2005
By 
B. Emory (Wilmington NC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (Paperback)
This is such an exciting book because it brings so many cultures together and shows us how fascinating other people live. Its so easy to take for granted the things that you have in this world when there are others who have simply nothing. Menzel photographs families outside their homes with their belongings. While most families have adequate provisions, some seem to be from a different century. Its hard also to fathom how some of these families live, such as the Bosnians who hide in fear, or the Ethiopian children who have tasks such as collecting dung and pasting it onto their walls, while Nepalese families live about their livestocks and have marijuana growing in their fields. I appreciate the spreads showing different bathrooms (ranging from a hole in the ground to Turkish standing commode), foods, and classrooms. Besides the pictures of families and their possessions, Menzel included facts about the families' countries and pointed out why this would be considered a stereotypical family. This was surprising because I didnt realize that a rural Chinese family would be the norm, nor did I suspect that smaller families would be the norm for some Latin American countries. I also thought it was interesting that Menzel included a table comparing the wealth of the countries, its amazing that such poverty exists. It really opens up your eyes to the global portrait. I agree with another reviewer that this is definately a must have for gift giving and personal collection. This is perfect for any photography love, or anyone intrigued by the world and its people.
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Material World: A Global Family Portrait
Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Charles C. Mann (Paperback - October 3, 1995)
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