The most recommended books on famine

Who picked these books? Meet our 32 experts.

32 authors created a book list connected to famine, and here are their favorite famine books.
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What type of famine book?


Book cover of The Rice Sprout Song

Alice Poon Author Of Tales of Ming Courtesans

From my list on novels that take place in China.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Hong Kong, I received a fully bilingual (English and Chinese) education and also learned French in my youth. Since the release of my two historical Chinese novels: The Green Phoenix and Tales of Ming Courtesans, nostalgia for the magical world of wuxia fiction, which I grew up with, has spurred my desire to write wuxia stories following Jin Yong’s style, but with a mythical slant. Overall, my fiction writing has been influenced by Jin Yong, Emile Zola, and the wuxia/xianxia media.

Alice's book list on novels that take place in China

Alice Poon Why did Alice love this book?

This is a heart-wrenching novel about hunger and starvation in the early 1950s in a Southern China village. The book title implies the joy of harvest, which has a rhetorical effect as it runs counter to the book theme. Its metaphor for hunger is watery gruel that the rural poor eat for every meal as they slowly starve. The story is about the impending great famine after the Communist Party introduces the land reform policies and how villagers suffer in silence atrocious government abuse. 

This novel is a must-read if you want to understand what starvation feels like.

By Eileen Chang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rice Sprout Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first of Eileen Chang's novels to be written in English, The Rice-Sprout Song portrays the horror and absurdity that the land-reform movement brings to a southern village in China during the early 1950s. Contrary to the hopes of the peasants in this story, the redistribution of land does not mean an end to hunger. Man-made and natural disasters bring about the threat of famine, while China's involvement in the Korean War further deepens the peasants' misery. Chang's chilling depiction of the peasants' desperate attempts to survive both the impending famine and government abuse makes for spellbinding reading. Her critique…

Book cover of Defender of Walls

Lindsey Pogue Author Of City of Ruin

From Lindsey's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author History nerd Dystopian world wielder Romance junky Coach

Lindsey's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Lindsey Pogue Why did Lindsey love this book?

As a history buff, dystopian author, and historical drama addict, this book is everything I want in a story.

It transports you to a gritty, dystopian world with a medieval flare. Best of all, it doesn’t have magic, which makes it feel plausible.

In Defender of Walls, a decade of famine has splintered the kingdom, but it is the merchants who suffer most. The prose is exquisite, and the characters are complex and endearing.

I love that this book doesn’t shy away from tough situations and cringe-worthy moments, either. You feel the characters’ hunger pains, their fears, their hatred, and their heartache. The heroine’s gumption is inspiring, and the strong, broody hero’s compassion melted my heart.

I loved everything about this book and devoured the entire series! 

By Tanya Bird,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Defender of Walls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Keep her inside. Keep her alive.

Blake Suttone has a stomach full of grief and no food. A decade of famine has taken its toll on the splintered kingdom, but it is the merchants who suffer most. A wall stands between the hungry and the food, and the kingdom’s defenders stand guard atop it. Desperate times lead to desperate acts, and Blake will do whatever is necessary to ensure her family survives. But a growing attachment to a certain commander was never part of the plan. Now the man protecting the walls seems determined to guard her too.

Commander Harlan…

Book cover of The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan

Shoshana Keller Author Of Russia and Central Asia: Coexistence, Conquest, Convergence

From my list on modern Central Asia.

Who am I?

I am a historian of Russia and Eurasia at Hamilton College. I teach courses on Russian history, Central Asia, and the modern Middle East. We usually think of these as separate regions of the world, but in fact they are all connected across the vast Eurasian continent. Russians, Turks, Iranians, Mongols and more have been intertwined with each other throughout their histories. My formal research specialty is Soviet Central Asia. I have written on Stalin’s attempt to destroy Islam, on education and creating a historical narrative for Uzbekistan, and on cotton and manual labor under Khrushchev.

Many people are fascinated by the ancient Silk Road, but don’t know much about how we got from there to the “Stans” that emerged out of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. These books showcase the most recent scholarship on how Central Asia was gradually taken over by the Russian and Chinese empires, and how the republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were created, as well as Xinjiang Province in the People’s Republic of China.

Shoshana's book list on modern Central Asia

Shoshana Keller Why did Shoshana love this book?

The Kazakhs suffered a devastating famine 1928–1932 that was caused by Stalin’s collectivization campaign. Because the Kazakhs were nomadic herders, the first step was to “modernize” them by forcing them to become settled farmers. Cameron uses Russian- and Kazakh-language sources to show how Soviet communism’s obsession with creating modern nations led to near-genocide.

By Sarah Cameron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hungry Steppe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Hungry Steppe examines one of the most heinous crimes of the Stalinist regime: the Kazakh famine of 1930-33. More than 1.5 million people, a quarter of Kazakhstan's population, perished. Yet the story of this famine has remained mostly hidden from view. Sarah Cameron reveals this brutal story and its devastating consequences for Kazakh society.

Through extremely violent means, the Kazakh famine created Soviet Kazakhstan, a stable territory with clear boundaries that was an integral part of the Soviet economy; and it forged a new Kazakh national identity. But ultimately, Cameron finds, neither Kazakhstan nor Kazakhs themselves integrated into Soviet…

Book cover of The Sapphire Flute

Deirdra Eden Author Of Knight of Light

From my list on fantasy that are the most uplifting.

Who am I?

Deirdra has spent the last decade captivating audiences of all ages with her bestselling novels and fairy tales. Her specialty is paranormal theology which delves into documented historical phenomena and natural disasters of biblical proportions. She has a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling and Community Chaplaincy and works with non-profits to support victims of crime. She enjoys reading and writing books that are uplifting and explores the deeper side (both good and bad) of humanity and our purpose.

Deirdra's book list on fantasy that are the most uplifting

Deirdra Eden Why did Deirdra love this book?

This is a clean read that I feel safe giving to one of my kids and not worrying about any inappropriate content.

The author combines a perfect mix of adventure and mystery on this journey to collect keystones and save a dying world.

The stakes are high, yet one of the lessons the reader can glean is that even those who feel like they are small (compared to the problem) can do great things.

There are great lessons about friendship and hope, and how important these things are when times are tough.

One of the best things about this is that it is a series! There is a journey here to enjoy and a new world to get immersed in.

By Karen E. Hoover,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sapphire Flute as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rasann is a world in dire need. The net of magic that has held her together for eons is eroding and the magi can’t patch it fast enough to prevent disaster. Volcanoes spew, waters rise, famine and flood and desolation threaten the world as they desperately await the coming of the Wolfchild to heal their home. Three women begin quests for identity and freedom from the ties that have held them: Ember, from her overbearing and prejudice mother; Kayla, from the rigidity of the caste that has oppressed her family; C’Tan, from her dark and evil master, the Guardian S’Kotos.…

Book cover of The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East

Michelle Tusan Author Of The Last Treaty: Lausanne and the End of the First World War in the Middle East

From my list on World War I and the Middle East.

Who am I?

I’m a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where I teach and write about topics ranging from feminism to World War. I became interested in the history of the Armenian Genocide because my grandmother was a survivor. Other books I’ve written include: Women Making News: Gender and Journalism in Modern Britain; Smyrna’s Ashes: Humanitarianism, Genocide and the Birth of the Middle East and The British Empire and the Armenian Genocide. 

Michelle's book list on World War I and the Middle East

Michelle Tusan Why did Michelle love this book?

I appreciated how Tanielian so sensitively and expertly described the human tragedy of World War I in the Middle East.

She demonstrates how the Ottoman homefront was affected by wartime politics, disease, and ecological disaster. When you read this book, you will see the importance of the civilian side of living through a global conflict. It really was a lived experience that continues in the memory of those living in the region.

By Melanie S. Tanielian,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Charity of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the exception of a few targeted aerial bombardments of the city's port, Beirut and Mount Lebanon did not see direct combat in World War I. Yet civilian casualties in this part of the Ottoman Empire reached shocking heights, possibly numbering half a million people. No war, in its usual understanding, took place there, but Lebanon was incontestably war-stricken. As a food crisis escalated into famine, it was the bloodless incursion of starvation and the silent assault of fatal disease that defined everyday life.

The Charity of War tells how the Ottoman home front grappled with total war and how…

Book cover of Marching Through Suffering: Loss and Survival in North Korea

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland Author Of Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights Into North Korea

From my list on the North Korean economy.

Who are we?

We teamed up about fifteen years ago around a common interest in the political economy of North Korea; Haggard is a political scientist, Noland an economist. Both of us had spent our careers focused on Asia but looking largely at the capitalist successes: Japan and the newly industrializing countries of Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. But what about the anomalous cases in the region that did not get on the growth train? The “Asian miracle” was hardly ubiquitous…what had gone wrong? North Korea was clearly the biggest puzzle, and we ended up researching and writing on the famine, refugees, and the complexities of international sanctions. 

Stephan and Marcus' book list on the North Korean economy

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland Why did Stephan and Marcus love this book?

Economics does not always make easy reading, so stories are best told by listening to how privation is felt in everyday life. Sandra Fahy’s book is a terrific recent addition. An anthropologist, Fahy interviews famine refugees, who tell their tales. A common theme was that they worked hard and many believed at least to some extent in the regime. But they became disillusioned and defected not only because of economic conditions but for professional reasons; that they were prevented from putting their expertise and skills to use.

By Sandra Fahy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marching Through Suffering as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marching Through Suffering is a deeply personal portrait of the ravages of famine and totalitarian politics in modern North Korea since the 1990s. Featuring interviews with more than thirty North Koreans who defected to Seoul and Tokyo, the book explores the subjective experience of the nation's famine and its citizens' social and psychological strategies for coping with the regime.

These oral testimonies show how ordinary North Koreans, from farmers and soldiers to students and diplomats, framed the mounting struggles and deaths surrounding them as the famine progressed. Following the development of the disaster, North Koreans deployed complex discursive strategies to…

Book cover of The Tale of Gwyn

Merrie Haskell Author Of Handbook for Dragon Slayers

From my list on feel like you scrubbed floors in the Middle Ages.

Who am I?

I'm an American writer who grew obsessed with all things King Arthur at age 10. Trying to be the best 7th-grade Arthurian scholar in the world set me on a path of life-long learning and research. My historical fantasy novels for children have been flatteringly called "maybe the only [fiction] depiction of the complexities of feudal obligations & responsibilities I've ever seen" by a real medievalist. While that wasn't what I was going for, it speaks to the thing I seek out when I read: total immersion in another world. If you don't feel like you scrubbed pots in the Middle Ages, why would you read about a medieval scullery maid?

Merrie's book list on feel like you scrubbed floors in the Middle Ages

Merrie Haskell Why did Merrie love this book?

When I first encountered this book in the late 1980s, it was titled Jackaroo--named for the Robin Hood-like folk hero in the non-magical secondary world called the Kingdom. However, the star of the story is Gwyn, so the renaming makes sense. The book is riveting in its action moments, but somehow I'm even more drawn to the scenes of daily toil. I have absolutely no idea how Voigt can make scrubbing the floor seem so important! (This is the real floor-scrubbing book of this list.) The Tale of Gwyn evokes a medieval European past that feels more real than the best-researched historical novel. Hopefully the series rebrand draws the wide readership it deserves--it is both exciting and thoughtful, bleak and hopeful, and I return to it again and again. 

By Cynthia Voigt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tale of Gwyn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In a fantastical kingdom ravaged by famine and poverty, the prospect of hope lies with a mythical masked hero in this, the first book in the Tales of the Kingdom series from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt.

In a distant time, a kingdom is starving. With winter upon them, there is little hope, except for the legend of Jackaroo: a masked outlaw who comes at night to aid the destitute and helpless. But Gwyn, the innkeeper’s daughter, is too practical for false hopes. She believes Jackaroo is nothing more than a fairy tale told to keep children hopeful till the next…

Book cover of Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

Zhang-Yue Zhou Author Of Achieving Food Security in China: The Challenges Ahead

From my list on understanding China’s great famine.

Who am I?

My desire for food-related studies originates from my personal experience of starvation. Born in 1957 in rural China, I soon stepped into China’s Great Famine (1958-1962). During this famine, over 30 million people died of hunger, mostly peasants, including my grandpa (my mother’s father). As a growing child, I was hungry and today I still remember how my family struggled to feed us. After becoming a student at an agricultural university, I had the opportunity to think and started to ponder over food-related issues. After graduation, I became an academic and have since focused my energy on studies concerning food, chiefly, China’s food supply and food security. 

Zhang-Yue's book list on understanding China’s great famine

Zhang-Yue Zhou Why did Zhang-Yue love this book?

I treat Yang’s book as a bible for understanding China’s Great Famine (1958-1962). This famine remains little known to many people, including China’s younger generations. The Communist regime censors writings about this famine and controls the access to famine-related data and information.

As a senior journalist, Yang had privileged access to archives. He spent about twenty years piecing together the famine. His account of the famine is comprehensive with detail. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand China’s Great Famine. It greatly helped my studies in improving China’s food security and in avoiding future famines.

By Yang Jisheng, Guo Jian (translator), Stacy Mosher (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tombstone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Yang Jisheng's Tombstone is the book that broke the silence on of one of history's most terrible crimes

More people died in Mao's Great Famine than in the entire First World War, yet this story has remained largely untold, until now. Still banned in China, Tombstone draws on the author's privileged access to official and unofficial sources to uncover the full human cost of the tragedy, and create an unprecedented work of historical reckoning.

'A book of great importance' Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans

'The first proper history of China's great famine ... So thorough is his documentation that…

Book cover of Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

Carl J. Griffin Author Of The Politics of Hunger: Protest, Poverty and Policy in England, C. 1750-C. 1840

From my list on explaining the politics behind hunger.

Who am I?

I’m driven to understand the lives and mentalities of poor workers at the time of the Industrial Revolution. It’s a subject on which a great has been written but I’ve always been surprised that, in a British context, the subject of hunger has been largely ignored. The great joy of being a historical scholar is that freedom to follow your nose in the archive, to trust your instinct, and to uncover untold stories of the forgotten. Their experiences of hunger might relate to a now seemingly distant world, but such hunger histories are also amazingly prescient in our new age of food banks and famines. 

Carl's book list on explaining the politics behind hunger

Carl J. Griffin Why did Carl love this book?

The hard fact of the matter is that in the modern world no one needs be hungry, let alone die from starvation. But the idea that famine is not a result of ‘total food-availability decline’ but instead was a function of ‘entitlements’ is Sen’s – and is one of the most profound and important theories of the past hundred years. The theory is a complex one but can be boiled down to the idea that hunger – and then famine – are the product of political choices in the distribution of goods. It is impossible, meaningless even, to write of hunger without first thinking of Sen’s extraordinary book.  

By Amartya Sen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Poverty and Famines as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The main focus of this book is on the causation of starvation in general and of famines in particular. The author develops the alternative method of analysis-the 'entitlement approach'-concentrating on ownership and exchange, not on food supply. The book also provides a general analysis of the characterization and measurement of poverty. Various approaches used in economics, sociology, and political theory are critically examined. The predominance of distributional
issues, including distribution between different occupation groups, links up the problem of conceptualizing poverty with that of analyzing starvation.

Book cover of Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World

Nick Dearden Author Of Pharmanomics: How Big Pharma Destroys Global Health

From my list on to understand why the world is in such a mess.

Who am I?

So many of the problems we face as a society stem from the way our economy works. But the economy is presented as something technical and dry, or even simply the ‘natural state of things’. It makes it hard for people to understand where power lies, or even to imagine how it could be otherwise. If we want things to be different – and we really need things to be different – we’ve got to find better ways of communicating what’s going on. I’ve chosen some books that do this – to explain how economic decisions are made. And always to point to the possibility of it all being very different and much better. 

Nick's book list on to understand why the world is in such a mess

Nick Dearden Why did Nick love this book?

We’ve been told ‘the market knows best’ for a long time, and we’re now seeing the economic, political, and environmental breakdown which comes from arranging society around the market’s diktat. Worse, we’ve been here before.

In Late Victorian Holocausts, the late historian Mike Davis documents the most shocking historical consequences of organising societies to please the market. In the heyday of the British Empire, London’s obsession with ‘leaving it to the market’ extended to letting profit dictate who should eat and who should starve.

After the British stripped away traditional social networks on which the majority could depend in times of crisis, people found that ‘the market’ demanded food be shipped from where it was needed, to where there was money. The loss of millions of lives to famine was not the result of ‘backwardness’ and ignorance, but of ‘modernity’ and the market. 

By Mike Davis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Late Victorian Holocausts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Examining a series of El Nino-induced droughts and the famines that they spawned around the globe in the last third of the 19th century, Mike Davis discloses the intimate, baleful relationship between imperial arrogance and natural incident that combined to produce some of the worst tragedies in human history. Late Victorian Holocausts focuses on three zones of drought and subsequent famine: India, Northern China; and Northeastern Brazil. All were affected by the same global climatic factors that caused massive crop failures, and all experienced brutal famines that decimated local populations. But the effects of drought were magnified in each case…