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Material World: A Global Family Portrait Paperback – October 3, 1995
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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In honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, award-winning photojournalist Peter Menzel brought together 16 of the world's leading photographers to create a visual portrait of life in 30 nations. Material World tackles its wide subject by zooming in, allowing one household to represent an entire nation. Photographers spent one week living with a "statistically average" family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future. Then a "big picture" shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their (many or few) material goods.
The book provides sidebars offering statistics and a brief history for each country, as well as personal notes from the photographers about their experiences. But it is the "big pictures" that tell most of the story. In one, a British family pauses before a meal of tea and crumpets under a cloudy sky. In another, wary Bosnians sit beside mattresses used as sniper barricades. A Malian family composed of a husband, his two wives, and their children rests before a few cooking and washing implements in golden afternoon light. Material World is a lesson in economics and geography, reminding us of the world's inequities, but also of humanity's common threads. An engrossing, enlightening book. --Maria Dolan
From School Library Journal
YA?A fascinating look at the material possessions of families throughout the world. These people have been determined "average" for their countries and have agreed to have photographers move the contents of their houses outside in order to create visible representations of their relative standards of living. The dirt house and few possessions of Mali residents contrast with the 4 cars, 45-foot long sofa, and 12+ oriental carpets lined up outside the luxury home of a family from Kuwait. Each chapter includes the original spread of possessions, statistics about each family and country, as well as further pictures of daily life and some observations by the photographer. Interspersed among the chapters, which are divided by region, are pictorial representations of such interesting comparisons as televisions, meals, and toilets. Almost all of the pictures are in full color. Menzel hoped this would be "a unique tool for grasping cross-cultural realities." It is that and much more.?Susan H. Woodcock, King's Park Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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.
Most recent customer reviews
True to the adage, a picture is worth a thousand words.