From the Affiliated Societies column in the March 2002 Perspectives
WHA Book Award for Mike Davis
AHA Staff, March 2002
The World History Association Book Award Committee is pleased to announce that the winner of its 2002 prize is Mike Davis for his Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (Verso, 2001). This book stood out for its synthesis of scientific and historical data into a very readable, well-documented and well-argued narrative that makes a significant contribution to transregional history. Late Victorian Holocausts shows that the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the last quarter of the 19th century caused massive and recurring famines, which were worsened by political and economic imperialists (foreign and domestic) whose policies either helped to cause such disasters or took advantage of them to acquire territory and extract wealth.
One of the competition jurors felt the tone of the book was often polemical but admitted, "It is a fascinating read, with great amounts of information about relatively forgotten famines [from] highly credible primary and secondary sources, and his argument...is highly accurate." Another wrote, "Late Victorian Holocausts is emphatic confirmation that the interplay between humanity and the earthly biosphere is the most exciting direction world history as a distinctive mode of analysis has been taking in the past few years.... In compelling prose, Davis weaves the physics and meteorology of ENSO into the story of political and economic imperialism in the 19th century. . . . Readers who disapprove of historians who write with feeling about social injustice may think this book borders on the polemical. In my estimation Davis preempts any such complaint by wrapping his argument in layers of thoroughly documented evidence." A third said, "Late Victorian Holocausts is a bold, compelling critique of the conventional wisdom which holds that the late 19th century boom in global trade started backward societies on a path to development.... Readers may not embrace all of Davis' answers, but no one can deny that he is re-opening fundamental questions in an eye-opening way. Every reader will learn from this book."
Nominations are now invited for the 2003 WHA Book Award competition. The books nominated should be 2002 publications that represent first-rate history from a global (transregional) perspective. To nominate (by October 2002), contact David Chappell, WHA Book Award Committee Chair, Department of History, University of Hawai'i, 2530 Dole Street, Honolulu, HI 96822-2383 USA. Fax: 808.956.9600. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.