Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine

About the Book | Additional Resources | Book Events

The world almost conquered famine. Until the 1980s, this scourge killed ten million people every decade, but by early 2000s mass starvation had all but disappeared. Today, famines are resurgent, driven by war, blockade, hostility to humanitarian principles and a volatile global economy.

In Mass Starvation, world-renowned expert on humanitarian crisis and response, and WPF Executive Director, Alex de Waal, provides an authoritative history of modern famines: their causes, dimensions and why they ended. He analyses starvation as a crime, and breaks new ground in examining forced starvation as an instrument of genocide and war. Refuting the enduring but erroneous view that attributes famine to overpopulation and natural disaster, he shows how political decision or political failing is an essential element in every famine, while the spread of democracy and human rights, and the ending of wars, were major factors in the near-ending of this devastating phenomenon. 

Hard-hitting and deeply informed, Mass Starvation (Polity Books, 2017) explains why man-made famine and the political decisions that could end it for good must once again become a top priority for the international community. You can purchase the book in the UK starting in November 2017, and elsewhere beginning in January 2018

Additional Resources:

  • de Waal’s research on famine trends that helped inform the book: a dataset of great famines, defined as a food crisis that causes elevated mortality over a specific period of time for which the upper estimates of excess death exceed 100,000, and episodes of mass intentional starvation between 1870 and 2010, including key tables and graphs.
  • Additional writings by de Waal on famine from our blog.
  • Recently published essays: “The Nazis Used it, We Use it,” London Review of Books (39:12, June 15, 2017). “Operation Starvation“, an Occasional Paper published by the World Peace Foundation (June 16, 2017). On the November 22, 2017, the Guardian published an article citing Alex de Waal’s argument that the UK, US and others on the Security Council; and a podcast interview with de Waal.

Upcoming Book Events (2018)


Jan. 19: London: London School of Economics


Jan. 19: DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 3:30.

Feb. 22: The Hague: Grotius Centre at Leiden University, 5:30 book signing, event 6 p.m.

Feb 26: Galway: National University of Ireland

Feb 28: Dublin:  Royal Irish Academy, sponsored by Trocaire, 6 p.m

Feb 29: Cork, Centre for Global Development


March 15: New York: International Rescue Committee,  12:30 p.m.

Late March: Boston: Tufts University