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Review Essay

Hunger Games

A History of Famine

In This Review

Eating People Is Wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, Its Past, and Its Future
Eating People Is Wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, Its Past, and Its Future
By Cormac Ó Gráda
Princeton University Press, 2015, 248 pp. Purchase

Nearly 3,000 years ago, according to the Old Testament, an army of Arameans, led by King Ben-hadad, besieged the West Bank city of Samaria. Cut off from its agricultural hinterlands, the city soon ran out of food. In desperation, many people appear to have resorted to consuming barely edible sources of nutrients, including “dove’s dung” and the scraps of flesh that they could scavenge from donkeys’ skulls. Eventually, even those grew scarce, and the Bible recounts that the starving inhabitants of the city turned to killing and eating their own children.

Such a grotesque story could be written off as the result of authorial license or historical error. But as the economic historian Cormac Ó Gráda writes in his new book, Eating People Is Wrong, evidence of famine-induced cannibalism abounds, even in the past century. Separating truth from fiction can be difficult, and narratives of cannibalism are inevitably subject

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