Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World

“Eloquent and passionate, this is a veritable Black Book of liberal capitalism.”—Tariq Ali
Examining a series of El Niño-induced droughts and the famines that they spawned around the globe in the last third of the 19th century, Mike Davis discloses the intimate, baleful relationship between imperial arrogance and natural incident that combined to produce some of the worst tragedies in human history.

Late Victorian Holocausts focuses on three zones of drought and subsequent famine: India, Northern China; and Northeastern Brazil. All were affected by the same global climatic factors that caused massive crop failures, and all experienced brutal famines that decimated local populations. But the effects of drought were magnified in each case because of singularly destructive policies promulgated by different ruling elites.

Davis argues that the seeds of underdevelopment in what later became known as the Third World were sown in this era of High Imperialism, as the price for capitalist modernization was paid in the currency of millions of peasants' lives.


  • “Wide ranging and compelling...a remarkable achievement.”
  • “Devastating.”
  • “A masterly account of climatic, economic and colonial history.”
  • “A hero of the Left, Davis is part polemicist, part historian, and all Marxist.”
  • “Davis has given us a book of substantial contemporary relevance as well as great historical interest ... this highly informative book foes well beyond its immediate focus.”
  • “Davis's range is stunning.... He combines political economy, meteorology, and ecology with vivid narratives to create a book that is both a gripping read and a major conceptual achievement. Lots of us talk about writing ‘world history’ and ‘inter-disciplinary history’: here is the genuine article.”
  • “The global climate meets a globalizing political economy, the fundamentals of one clashing with the fundamentalisms of the other. Mike Davis tells the story with zest, anger, and insight.”


  • New Left Review - Issue 93 out now

    Continue Reading

  • Auschwitz Report: An Extract

    An extract from Auschwitz Report by Primo Levi with Leonardo De Benedetti on Holocaust Memorial day.

    Two Survivors (from the introduction)

    On 27 January 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated what was left of the network of concentration, labour and extermination camps near Auschwitz in southern Poland. The first part of the camp they stumbled upon was Buna-Monowitz (Monowice), or Auschwitz III, a satellite of the central Auschwitz-Birkenau complex which was run by the Nazis in collaboration with the industrial chemical corporation IG Farben. Until days earlier, 12,000 enslaved labourers, mostly Jews, had been kept there in appalling conditions.

    Amongst the several hundred sick and dying left behind by the retreating Nazis were two Italian Jews, both from Turin: 46-year-old doctor Leonardo De Benedetti and 25-year-old chemistry graduate Primo Levi.

    Continue Reading

Other books by Mike Davis