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Material World: A Global Family Portrait

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. In honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, award-winning photojournalist Peter Menzel brought together 16 of the world's leading photographers to create a...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings


This book is a fantastic picture book and statistical reference of our world. Menzel's idea was brilliant- -to identify a statistically average family in every corner of the world, and photograph them and all of their belongings, as well as capture aspects of their daily life on film. The book is organized by continent, and then by country within each continent. Each entry begins with a multi-page photo of the family in front of their house, with of all their possessions. Beside the photo is an enumeration of the possessions that appear in the photo. The remainder of the article is found on the next 3 or 4 pages. There is usually a short summary of statistics about the country, covering such topics as area, population, population density, life expectancy, and rank of affluence among U.N. member countries. But much more informative are a variety of high-quality color photos showing family members going about their daily activities, at work, at school, or eating a meal in the family home. There is a brief text about the family itself, who they are, what they do, and where they live. The photographer also provides a brief summary of his or her experiences while living with the family and taking the photographs. In the photographer's notes are statistics about the work week, the number of radios, telephones, televisions, VCRs, and automobiles. The photographer also asks each family member to identify their most valued possessions and their dreams for the future.The choice of the family to convey both the ideal and the reality of a typical "American" family was perfect. They have the requisite two children, one of each gender, and a dog. They are shown outside their ranch-style house, with a fairly new pickup truck and minivan in their attached garage. The photographer's idea of commandeering the entire cul-de-sac of the sub-development to showcase the family's possessions for the main photograph does an incredible job at capturing Americans' need for and use of space. (It makes an incredible contrast with the Japanese family, who have just as many possessions or even more, but are photographed with everything crammed together in a tiny block just the width of their house.) The picture of the American family appears on the cover of the book, juxtaposed with the family from Bhutan, with their house and meager possessions perched on a mountainside with no roads in sight. Despite the innumerable differences between the families, there are also many parallels. Both families are obviously proud of what they have and who they are. And in these pictures, and throughout the book, over and over again throughout the world, the family members identify religious objects as their most valued possessions.In addition to the main chapters, the book also includes short features on televisions of the world, meals of the world, and toilets of the world, as well as appendices with more statistics, contributing photographers' biographies, and a list of

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

"Material World" is one of those books that EVERYONE should read. It really is beyond description...deceptively simply yet incredibly moving in its stark simplicity. In these pages about families across the globe, we see scenes from their everyday life. When we glance at the pictures of each family on their lawn surrounded by all of their material goods, the difference between the average American family and the average Ethiopian family couldn't be plainer. We look at the faces on these pages, hear their thoughts on the future, and compare their lives to our own...and suddenly the people in other countries seem real to us, and the faceless people of the news suddenly have faces and thoughts and homes and families. Peter Menzel and all of the others who have worked on this book have done a brilliant and wonderful thing when they created "Material World". They have done what no "You should be grateful..." or "Think of those people in other countries..." could have done...they have made the world real to us.

Not just about material differences

This book was a required "textbook" in a high school "Science and Sustainability" pilot class my school did in junior year. I remember we generally used the books in class but could check them out to take home if we wanted. I checked one out and din't want to give it back. I think I skipped two classes that day just sitting in the student lounge poring over it, and I think the people reading over my shoulder probably had other things to do as well, but I couldn't put it down, it was so fascinating. So of course I bought my own and I can still pick it up and pore over it for another three hours with the same fascination. It's real life, and the families are real people that you feel somehow close to after reading this. I love this book and show it to everyone. This book will change the way you look at things. Also, for those who think that this book is primarily about material goods around the world, you couldn't be more wrong. Each chapter shows an incredibly detailed portrait of life in another country, and is as wonderful for introducing kids to other cultures as it is for opening their eyes to economic realities. Enjoy.

An excellent idea, well executed

What does the average Ethiopian home look like? What is the average Cuban family's hope for the future? How much does a carrot cost on the black Market in Bosnia? Which country has the highest fish consumption per capita? What does the average Japanese father have for breakfast? It may seem trivial, but these are the questions that Peter Menzel and the creators of "Material World" have tried to answer. And the answers they found are more profound than you might think. 30 very different countries, and 16 excellent photographers, trying to show through images, statistics and interviews how the world's average families live. The differences are astonishing: the financially average Abdullah family in Kuwait is both literally and figuratively a world removed from the Cakonis in Albania.In this book, created to celebrate the United Nations International Year Of The Family, sumptuous photographs, show each family with their material possessions spread around them outside their homes: while one family's material wealth seems to consist almost entirely of carpets, another's is made up of animals and cooking pots. One family has four cars, another a single and ragged looking donkey. More photographs show each family in the course of the average day, and coupled with data based on interviews, they answer questions such as: do the children go to school? Where does their food come from? What does their house look like? And most tellingly, what is their most treasured possession? More light hearted sections, which explore average televisions, toilets and meals across the world, show at once how alike and different we are.The creators of "Material World" have sought, and achieved a fine balance. They contrast not only those countries which we know to be rich or poor, but also look at how other factors, such as war and technology, affect families. The information is implicit rather than explicit, conveyed only through the images and words of each family; while the photographers' impressions are expressed in small "photographer's notes" sections, their main function is simply to show us the real lives of their subjects. No judgements are passed, nor opinions given. The reader is left to examine the evidence for themselves. "Material World" works on many levels. The quality of photography and the compilation of each section make it beautiful to look at - a smart and very PC coffee table book. The statistical information and photographs together provide a wealth of material for use in schools. Flipping backwards and forwards to explore the differences yourself is as much fun as "Where's Waldo", and the writing is so good that "Material World" is a great book to snuggle up with and read. I can only pick one fault with this book: the more trivial statistical data is not always consistent. For example, data on percentages of income spent on food is only available for some families, making comparison impossible. However, this

Your Kids Will Get A Whole New Perspective on "Stuff"

I discovered this one-of-a-kind book while paging through my favorite book catalog. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and bought it immediately for full price at my nearest bookstore (I NEVER pay full price - I was that excited!) On a cue from my catalog's annotation, I left it casually available in our family room. Within 10 minutes, my 9-year-old "material girl" zoomed in on the large, glossy cover, and asked about the book. I played cool: "Just a new book I really like... it's about all kinds of families and what kinds of stuff they have." Warily sensing the "educational" angle, she left it untouched as I left the room. Ten minutes later, she impatiently called to her 6-year old sister: "Look at this picture! This is a real family and this is all their stuff, even their beds! Where's their car? Look at these 2 little Mexican girls buying Barbies!" Unable to resist the text by now, she amended: "Oh, they're just looking. They don't have money to buy them." A thoughtful pause followed. Were the darling kids in the picture the anonymous "poor people" they heard about so often at school? They don't look unhappy in the photos...they look just like a regular family. YES! CONNECTION! It took the 2-page "Toilets of the World" spread to hook their 8-year-old brother, but this book remains an unending source of fascination for all of us. I am making a list of families to buy it for. Please take my word on this: I love language, but Material World's pictures tell a story of common humanity that could never be conveyed the same way in words. Don't miss this book.
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