Famine: A Short History By Cormac Ó Gráda (Princeton University Press, 327 pp., $27.95) The earliest recorded famines, according to Cormac Ó Gráda in his brief but masterful book, are mentioned on Egyptian stelae from the third millennium B.C.E. In that time--and to an extent, even today, above the Aswan dam in Sudan--farmers along the Nile were dependent on the river flooding to irrigate their fields. But one flood out of five, Ó Gráda tells us, was either too high or too low. The result was often starvation.
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War By Graham Robb (W.W. Norton, 455 pp., $27.95) FOR A BOOK OF “historical geography,”The Discovery of France has received remarkable attention and acclaim: long and appreciative reviews in British and American newspapers, the title of “notable book of the year” from The New York Times, rapturous applause in The New York Review of Books, and so forth. The reason is not hard to see. Graham Robb is an engaging and gifted writer, known for his enjoyable and instructive biographies of Hugo and Rimbaud.