cover image Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World

Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World

Mike Davis. Verso, $27 (464pp) ISBN 978-1-85984-739-8

While this book will not have the impact of Davis's City of Quartz--a scathing indictment of L.A.'s environmental ravagement, economic disparity and racial divides--in a perfect world, it would. Its subject is nothing less than the creation of what we now call ""The Third World,"" through a complex series of seemingly disparate natural and market-related events beginning in the 1870s. Davis dives into the data and journalism of the period with a vengeance, showing that the seemingly unprecedented droughts across northern Africa, India and China in the 1870s and 1890s are consistent with what we now know to be El Ni o's effects, and that it was political and market forces (which are never impersonal, Davis insists), and not a lack of potential stores and transportation, that kept grain from the more than 50 million people who starved to death. Chapters brilliantly reconstruct the political, economic, ecological and racial climate of the time, as well as the horrific deaths by hunger and thirst that besieged the peasantries of the afflicted c0untries. As in City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear and Magical Urbanism, Davis's synthetic powers, rendering mountains of data into an accessible and cogent form, are matched by his acid castigations of the murders and moral failings that have attended the advance of capitalism, and by cogent detours into the work of journalists and theorists who have come before him, decrying injustice and rallying the opposition. (Feb.) Forecast: Although this book's historical subject seems vastly removed from contemporary American life, it may get some media attention for its El Ni o-based arguments. City of Quartz still guarantees review attention for any Davis project, which may draw history buffs who haven't heard of him. His substantial core readership will seek out the book either way, and the book's synthesis of hardcore data will also hold appeal for poli-sci syllabi and university libraries.