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The Hungry World

The Hungry World

America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia

Nick Cullather

ISBN 9780674725812

Publication date: 09/09/2013

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Food was a critical front in the Cold War battle for Asia. “Where Communism goes, hunger follows” was the slogan of American nation builders who fanned out into the countryside to divert rivers, remodel villages, and introduce tractors, chemicals, and genes to multiply the crops consumed by millions. This “green revolution” has been credited with averting Malthusian famines, saving billions of lives, and jump-starting Asia’s economic revival. Bono and Bill Gates hail it as a model for revitalizing Africa’s economy. But this tale of science triumphant conceals a half century of political struggle from the Afghan highlands to the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta, a campaign to transform rural societies by changing the way people eat and grow food.

The ambition to lead Asia into an age of plenty grew alongside development theories that targeted hunger as a root cause of war. Scientific agriculture was an instrument for molding peasants into citizens with modern attitudes, loyalties, and reproductive habits. But food policies were as contested then as they are today. While Kennedy and Johnson envisioned Kansas-style agribusiness guarded by strategic hamlets, Indira Gandhi, Marcos, and Suharto inscribed their own visions of progress onto the land.

Out of this campaign, the costliest and most sustained effort for development ever undertaken, emerged the struggles for resources and identity that define the region today. As Obama revives the lost arts of Keynesianism and counter-insurgency, the history of these colossal projects reveals bitter and important lessons for today’s missions to feed a hungry world.


  • Brilliant… Admirable… The Hungry World is an immensely important book… [Cullather] has performed a tremendous service, and written a book not just of interest but of lasting value in showing in detail and with great discernment just how new, and also how radical, development was when it first began to transform the ways powerful nations thought about everything from the specifics of warfighting (it is where the ‘hearts and minds’ doctrine was born, after all) to the broadest questions of national interest… If Cullather is right…then his account requires us to rewrite the diplomatic history of the second half of the twentieth century. The Hungry World is the invaluable beginning of that rewriting.

    —David Rieff, The Nation


  • 2011, Winner of the Robert H. Ferrell Book Prize
  • 2011, Winner of the Ellis W. Hawley Prize


  • Nick Cullather is Professor of History and International Studies at Indiana University.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press