The Heroic Men Who Starved So That Millions Could Live
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Workmanlike account of a scientific study on the effects of starvation on the human body and mind, conducted in Minnesota in 1944 and 1945.

Tucker (Notre Dame vs. the Klan, not reviewed) interviewed more than a dozen of the study’s participants, as well as its director, Dr. Ancel Keys. Perhaps best known as the developer of the army’s K ration, Keys sought to discover how to most effectively rehabilitate populations that had starved during WWII. To accomplish this, he turned to the Selective Service System, operators of the Civilian Public Service to which conscientious objectors were then assigned. Young pacifists who volunteered to be his guinea pigs were brought to the Laboratory of Physical Hygiene, located under the football stadium at the University of Minnesota. From among them, Keys selected 36 fit young men. Tucker focuses on the stories of three—Max Kampleman, Sam Legg and Henry Scholberg—but includes anecdotes about others who struggled through the rigorous year-long program. In the first three months, their weight was normalized. For the next six months, they were put on starvation diets that reduced their body weight by 25 percent. Then, for the final three months, they were rehabilitated, using several methods chosen by Keys. In addition to describing the study’s methodology and documenting the men’s physical decline, the author has elicited from his interviewees accounts of their feelings, obsessions and nightmares, showing the psychological effects of starvation as well. As background, he includes gruesome details of famine in Leningrad and the starvation of prisoners at Buchenwald. Keys’s study was not completed before the war ended, thus limiting its usefulness for relief workers designing nutritional programs to rehabilitate Europe’s starving populations. It remains, however, a seminal work on human starvation. Given the ethical constraints imposed on such experiments by the postwar Nuremberg Code and the 1964 Helsinki Declaration, Tucker concludes that nothing like it can ever be done again.

Sheds welcome light on a little-known historical event and on the role of conscientious objectors in WWII.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 2006
ISBN: 0-7432-7030-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2006