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T.J. Bassett & A. Winter-Nelson, The Atlas of World Hunger.

T.J. Bassett & A. Winter-Nelson, The Atlas of World Hunger.

University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010. ISBN 9780226039077. Hardback. xiii+201 pp. US$45 / 29 [pounds sterling].

The authors of The Atlas of World Hunger want to "show where hunger exists in the world and to explain its geography" (p.7). The Atlas had its origins as a class project in a development geography course, and is an expression of scholarly concern for vulnerable peoples and countries.

The Atlas has 82 plates, 64 figures (including 21 photographs), 32 tables, and 23 information boxes. The introduction discusses mapping hunger, measures and levels of food security and insecurity, and the sources of hunger. There is a useful information box on how to read the maps in the atlas. The main body of the atlas consists of two parts: Locating Hunger, and The Sources of Hunger. Thematic threads are tied together in a short conclusion. The full citations for data sources for the maps are given in an appendix. There is also an appendix showing the hunger vulnerability index for countries for which data is available. The data is mapped at the national level. Some of the data is historical, but most of the data comes from the period 2002 to 2006, with some data from 2007 and 2008.

The map colour schemes are taken from and the cartogram programme used was supplied by There is a 40 x 20 cm inside front cover map of the world showing a vulnerability index, but the maps of the world in the body of the atlas have dimensions of 10 x 19 cm. There are some case-study maps: child growth failure in Uruguay and its capital, Montevideo; food insecurity in the United States (which is a dataless blank on the vulnerability index map); anaemia, child growth failure, and improved drinking water in India; adult obesity in Mexico; and a cholera epidemic in Angola. These case studies were chosen primarily because the nations collected this data and made it available. The text for each map discusses the forms and quality of the data, connects the map to the overarching themes of the atlas, and comments on the patterns shown in the map. The first map (p.8) shows safe drinking water. On the same page is a topological map showing people living on less than US$1.25 per day. The last page with maps (p.183) shows maps of change in the number of undernourished people, 1990-92 to 2002-04, and change in proportion of population undernourished, 1990-92 to 2002-04.

The maps are informative and generally easy to read. Given its high cost, the atlas would have been a more attractive proposition if the maps had also been made available on a CD included in the purchase price. It would have then been possible to display maps on a computer screen, for data of individual nations to be displayed and interrogated for each map, and for maps from different parts of the book to be shown side-by-side.

World hunger has been a persistent problem and it will not be eliminated unless poverty and the misdistribution of resources are also eliminated. This will require major changes in the ways in which nations, institutions, economies and societies organize and interact. One of the authors, Bassett, has recently written an article, 'Reducing hunger vulnerability through sustainable development' (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010, 107(13):5697-5698), in which he states that "hunger is linked to multi-scale processes that make poor people vulnerable to exacerbating conditions like price shocks, disasters, and violent conflicts." The Atlas of World Hunger does make a contribution to the problem of world hunger by bringing together a lot of information and ideas, and by displaying and interpreting them in interesting and thought-provoking ways.

The Atlas of World Hunger is expensive, and it will probably be mostly purchased by university libraries and specialists. There are several recently published atlases that are concerned with aspects of human resources issues, and impacts on and interactions with the environment. Titles include The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World's Greatest Challenge (University of California Press, Berkeley, c.2006), Collins Atlas of Global Issues and Collins Atlas of Global Development (Collins & The World Bank, Glasgow, 2007), World Hunger Series--Hunger and Markets (World Food Programme & Earthscan, London, 2009), and The Atlas of Water: Mapping the World's Most Critical Resource (Earthscan, London, 2010). All the aforementioned atlases have maps that are more attractive to look at, and are more innovative in their cartography, and include additional written and illustrative materials on individual maps. For the general reader, they are probably more appealing to purchase and read than the atlas under review. Nevertheless, The Atlas of World Hunger is an excellent book on the causes and geography of hunger, and would be a valuable educational resource for anyone studying geography, development studies, and food and agriculture. The maps in the atlas are interesting and informative, but they are not triumphs of cartography with respect to their presentation of data and visual appearance.

Alexander Wearing

Dunedin, New Zealand
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Author:Wearing, Alexander
Publication:The Globe
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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