Though I agree with other reviewers that Davis is at his best when discussing India, the sections on Brazil, China, and numerous other places (to which he pays insufficient attention, truly) are generally informative. Perhaps it's fair to say that he establishes his argument on the basis of the British genocides in India, and then produces schematic outlines of varying depths for the imperial genocides in China, Brazil, Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, the Philippines, and so on. That slight flaw noted, this text has very high quality--fine documentation and a well reasoned, committed perspective. Overall, this text is probably the first step in rationally countering the trash that is *The Black Book of Communism*--call this chapter one of *The Black Book of Capitalism* (perhaps Blum's *Killing Hope* can be chapter 2--and, yes, there is in fact a *Black Book of Capitalism* in German, which is actually about capitalism; I am unaware of any translation yet to English--no surprise there!)
Some reviewers have pooh-poohed the text on the basis that it sets up typical marxist hierarchies of villainy in its attempt to define famines as political events. This complaint is of course a straw man: though proper marxists will point out that there is a politics to everything--including the weather--it is unlikely that marxism traditionally attempts to blame someone for everything.
Some have also carped against the text for suggesting simply that some deadly virus of capitalism infected China, resulting in the famines there. In fact, Davis' reading of the Manchu Qing dynasty and its policies is much more nuanced than that, and considers a host of issues--including ENSO, the Taiping and other rebellions, surely the Opium Wars, the catastrophic shift of the Yellow River in 1855, and numerous others--including indigenous Chinese corruption, and, yes, some of the more familiar brutalities of the capitalist system.
Critics tend likewise to have a dismissive attitude toward Davis' thesis regarding the integration of India, China, and Brazil into the world capitalist system--not a useful intellectual response to a serious historical debate. I for one would appreciate an actual refutation, by means of proofs that the genocides indeed were not caused, exacerbated, or otherwise enabled by British capitalism & imperialism. Instead, for the moment, all the rightwing offers is "two cheers for colonialism," like a pack of dirtbag fascists.
Critics have otherwise attempted to critique Davis on the basis of a perceived turn in his analysis of the big 20th century famines, under Stalin and Mao, which are said to be unrelated to ENSO, both in fact and in Davis. Such statements are fairly dishonest and perplexing. Davis does in fact make a case for such developments continuing into the 20th century--and he does in fact furthermore consider, briefly albeit, both the Ukranian and Chinese famines mentioned above. Though his treatment overall of Russia is one of the most schematic in the text, he does note that the Volga basin seems to feature a correlation of ENSO to drought/famine, and moreover records the 1930 El Nino as correlated to the 1931 drought crisis (269). This undoubtedly does not explain the fullness of the Ukranian famine, but it certainly will contribute to an explanation that otherwise focuses on Stalinist criminality and commie bungling. The same goes for the Maoist case, where Davis correlates the famines associated with the Great Leap Forward very specifically to ENSO, an argument certainly to be ignored by unreconstructed Cold Warriors and crypto-mccarthyites (248-251).
One of the most assinine criticism of the text from the rightwing regards Davis' thesis that the maoist famine was attributable to the inability of the countryside to communicate effectively with the bureaucracy, the purported lack of socialist democracy, which is summarily dismissed as a fantasy. It is incredibly obtusely dishonest to make this kind of criticism. Davis does attempt to explain the Chinese famine as a result of a complex of factors, including human decisions, meteorology, and the weight of the aggregate of history (the suggestion that Chiang, a victorious Japanese invasion, or an outright US occupation of China would've performed better is quite simply laughable, given the circumstances).
Also, critics respond to Davis by heaping adoration on Robert Conquest and western Cold War Sovietologists; these folks would have us believe that, say, Stalin killed 50 million people in the USSR, but still managed to defeat the Nazis, losing 20 million more in the process-such claims make little sense--indeed, the only people who accept Conquest's exaggerations are pathological anti-communists who don't need any evidence at all for anything.
The anti-communist will further criticize Davis by suggesting that the lack of "socialist democracy" in China is axiomatic, sniping that socialist democracy has never existed. This more or less vapid point is both puerile and a red herring, evading Davis' thesis--which was that the lack of two way communication between Beijing and the Chinese peasant allowed for the true extent of the famine to remain releatively unknown to the state planners. (The rightwing response is of course that the maoists wanted the peasants to die off--which is about as plausible as Bush wanting to blow up Manhattan--but, what the hell, they're evil commies!)
It is likewise disingenuous, as any attempts to pair a socialist economy with a political democracy have been destroyed by the Western powers--consider the destruction of Allende's regime in Chile (1973), to take the most famous example, the sabotage of the Vietnamese general elections in 1955, the low intensity warfare carried out against any number of regimes in Latin America or Africa (Nicaragua? Angola?), resulting in their degeneration and destruction, and the crushing of dozens of movements that struggled against autocratic capitalist regimes all over the world (El Salvador? South Africa? Philippines? Indonesia? everywhere in the Middle East?)--all crimes committed by the US precisely to destroy any potential "socialist democracy" from coming into existence and thereby providing a model of development that counters western militarism and economic hegemony, i.e., the friendly fascism of the US and its allies.
Very highly recommended. Would be perfect if the rigor of the Indian sections were carried through to the rest (including the 20th century items aforesaid).