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Material World: A Global Family Portrait Paperback – October 3, 1995

4.7 out of 5 stars 151 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Series: Sierra Club Books Publication
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (October 3, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871564300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871564306
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.6 x 12 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: 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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Format: 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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