Cover: Hunger: A Modern History, from Harvard University PressCover: Hunger in HARDCOVER


A Modern History

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$41.00 • £35.95 • €37.95

ISBN 9780674026780

Publication Date: 11/30/2007


384 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

34 halftones

Belknap Press


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Hunger is a thought-provoking book. Sharply focused and tightly argued.—Michael Sargent, Nature

Vernon has put together a persuasive and wide-ranging history of hunger. His central tenet that hunger is not a natural catastrophe—it emerges into public view within historical contexts and for precise political reasons—is compelling.—Joanna Bourke, The Times

This survey of British attitudes towards hunger is no mere liberal guilt-inducer… The book ends in the 1940s with glances forward to Thatcher, Tebbit, and Blair. Its range is political, sociological, and media-aware: ‘Tell the bastards!’ says a 1930s documentary film-maker. Scholarly and unjudgmental, the book does.—Martin Hoyle, Financial Times

This tension—between the global and the local, the high-calorie west and the hungry rest—lies at the heart of Hunger: A Modern History. Historian James Vernon’s widely acknowledged grasp of political history from the ground up brings depth and discernment to this compellingly argued and cogently written book. Vernon aims to provide a history of hunger in the U.K. and the British Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beginning with the pomp and circumstance of the 1851 Great Exhibition aand ending with the cheerful austerity of the 1951 Festival of Britain. He uses changing British responses to hunger as a window on the rise of new forms of civil society and social welfare, and as a way to explore another recurring theme in his work—the question of responsibility. Who was to blame for hunger, and who could be expected to relieve it?… This eye for both sides of a debate makes Hunger: A Modern History both acutely moving and, in the main, profoundly persuasive… Hunger: A Modern History is politically engaged history at its most humane, and Vernon uses his compassion and erudition to drive home a deeply disquieting truth. In the secular, postmodern west, hunger is perhaps the closest we get to guilt.—Richard Barnett, The Lancet

Charts, in great detail, the way hunger was constructed in the 19th century as something that the lazy and spineless brought upon themselves and how this perception changed in the 20th century with the emergence of the welfare state. Hunger may well be the subject of the book but in many ways it is the site for a discussion of the claims of market-based liberalism and social democracy and the way both camps depicted the very welfare state that, among other things, sought to eliminate malnutrition.—Steven Carroll, The Age

We think of hunger and famine as symptoms of a failed economy and government. But shifting cultural perceptions of hunger are historical agents in their own right, as this probing study, concentrating on 19th- and 20th-century Britain, shows… Vernon offers much lucid, trenchant rethinking on a resonant subject.Publishers Weekly

A work of exciting originality that uses hunger to challenge our essential ideas about the history of the welfare state and of democracy and citizenship in twentieth-century Britain. This is a very major book.—Geoff Eley, University of Michigan

Hunger: A Modern History moves impressively between the British domestic and political, the colonial and the global, without straining the argument or losing touch with the sources. James Vernon’s research ranges over vast tracts of material, demonstrating concretely and graphically how discussion about famine originating in nineteenth-century India became central to discussion about nutrition in twentieth-century Britain.—Gareth Stedman Jones, Cambridge University

A lively and engaging study that demonstrates how hunger is as much a historical condition as it is a biological one. Elegant, intelligent, and ambitious, it will be widely read and admired.—Philippa Levine, University of Southern California

This is history writing of the most jolting and publicly significant kind.—Bruce Robbins, Columbia University

Awards & Accolades

  • Co-Winner, 2008 PCCBS Book Prize, Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies

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