Sierra Club: The Planet--July/August 1996
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The Planet
Arresting Effects

Material World

At over 75,000 copies sold it's one of the most successful titles Sierra Club Books has ever produced. It's been serialized in half a dozen magazines, made into a CD-ROM, translated into three languages, used in classrooms and has been a mainstay of several best-seller lists since its 1994 release. A two-year project financed in part by the United Nations' World Population Fund, Material World is the vivid result of photojournalist Peter Menzel's work to coordinate 16 of the world's foremost shutterbugs in a pan-continental chronicle of peoples and their goods. The photographers traveled to 30 countries to spend a week living with and documenting the lives and effects of "statistically average" families. But their wide-angled approach to each -- culminating in a final family portrait outside the home surrounded by all their possessions -- achieves less-than-typical results. As an international photographic documentary, Material World offers a privileged glimpse into a range of lives. From Vietnam to Haiti, Italy to Houston, be it oxen and motorscooters or toilets and TV, this book showcases the common humanity of the Earth's peoples and the tremendous differences in their material wealth in a poignant and thought-provoking portrait of our species -- eliciting the ultimate questions: Can all 5 billion of us have everything we want? And what will happen to the Earth if we do?

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