Material World and Hungry Planet Show us the World

Books GeekMom
Material World
Bonus content includes images of toilets from around the world. Collage of book pages: Kris Bordessa

It’s a big world, but it seems to get more connected every day. We read about places across the globe in the news, meet new people from other countries on the ‘net, and talk with customer service reps in faraway places. But when it comes down to it, we may know Syria, Iraq, and China by name. We might even be able to locate them on a map. But do we have any inkling about the people who live in those places? Often not.

There are two fabulous books that have (seriously) traveled 7,500 miles with my family over the years as we’ve moved from place to place, simply because they must be on our bookshelves. Material World: A Global Family Portrait and Hungry Planet: What the World Eats are wonderful, thought-provoking, educational, and interesting.

Image: Sierra Club Books
Image: Sierra Club Books

We first found Material World: A Global Family Portrait through homeschooling friends, but this book transcends “education.” My boys are nearly 18 and 20 now, and we still pull it out. The book is a fascinating collection of images, photo essay style. In it, Peter Menzel, along with co-authors Charles C. Mann and Paul Kennedy, introduces readers to residents of various countries including Vietnam, Guatemala, Germany, Bosnia, and Israel. In all, he visits 30 countries and in each he finds a family willing to move all of their belongings outside so he can photograph them in front of their home. Televisions, furniture, small appliances, gas cans, toys, games. Think about that for a minute. What would your front yard look like with all of your belongings in it?

Flipping through Material World, readers will be able to see the stark difference between the family from Bhutan and an American family. They’ll read about each of these family’s lives; some residing in peaceful lands of plenty, others in war torn countries where they struggle to survive. The book is beautiful in its honest look at the world, at how people in different societies go about their business. A stats section covering each region addresses facts like population, literacy rate, and life expectancy.

Image: Material World
Image: Material World

In a follow up book, Menzel, along with co-author Faith D’Aluisio, tackles the food issue. You may have seen images from Hungry Planet: What the World Eats making their way around social media channels recently, or you may have seen images from the book in a slideshow at Time. Using a method similar to that used in Material World, Menzel gives us a look at what families across the globe eat in a week. The disparity is shocking. I was surprised (though I suppose I shouldn’t have been) at how prevalent items like soda, crackers, and boxed cereals were in developed countries. One thing that really caught my eye was the difference in color between one image and the next. The images of well-fed families from America, Canada, and Great Britain were neon-bright with packaged foods while countries like Mongolia, Bhutan, and Guatemala were represented with a much more natural palette. While some families face a shortage of food, the people in undeveloped countries have a tendency to eat a healthier selection of foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and meat.

On my wish list? What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio.

If there’s any question in your mind about whether or not I’m exaggerating about how fabulous these books are, take note of this: Both books have a solid five-star rating on Amazon. Mark my words people. These are that good.

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