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The Hungry Steppe

Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan

The Hungry Steppe examines one of the most heinous crimes of the Stalinist regime, the Kazakh famine of 1930–33. More than 1.5 million people perished in this famine, a quarter of Kazakhstan's population, and the crisis transformed a territory the size of continental Europe. Yet the story of this famine has remained mostly hidden from view. Drawing upon state and Communist party documents, as well as oral history and memoir accounts in Russian and in Kazakh, Sarah Cameron reveals this brutal story and its devastating consequences for Kazakh society.

Through the most violent of means the Kazakh famine created Soviet Kazakhstan, a stable territory with clearly delineated boundaries that was an integral part of the Soviet economic system; and it forged a new Kazakh national identity. But this state-driven modernization project was uneven. Ultimately, Cameron finds, neither Kazakhstan nor Kazakhs themselves were integrated into the Soviet system in precisely the ways that Moscow had originally hoped. The experience of the famine scarred the republic for the remainder of the Soviet era and shaped its transformation into an independent nation in 1991.

Cameron uses her history of the Kazakh famine to overturn several assumptions about violence, modernization, and nation-making under Stalin, highlighting, in particular, the creation of a new Kazakh national identity, and how environmental factors shaped Soviet development. Ultimately, The Hungry Steppe depicts the Soviet regime and its disastrous policies in a new and unusual light.

Author Information


Sarah Cameron is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Maryland-College Park.


Rebecca Manley, Associate Professor of History  , Queen’s University, and author of award-winning To the Tashkent Station:

"The Hungry Steppe is a compelling account of the Kazakh famine, situating it against the backdrop of changing Soviet perceptions of the steppe’s ecology and economy. Sarah Cameron ably and movingly documents the tragic consequences of the famine for the Kazakh population, and is the first to do so in the English language."

Stephen Kotkin:

"Sarah Cameron unearths abundant new Russian and Kazakh language sources to tell a spellbinding story of vicious social engineering.  Explaining what happened and why with utmost care, Cameron records the howls of suffering and mass death in the violent emergence of a Soviet Kazakh nation."

Adeeb Khalid, Professor of History, Carleton College, author of Making Uzbekistan:

"Sarah Cameron provides the first scholarly account of the murderous famine of 1930-31, perhaps the central event in modern Kazakh history. Told with empathy and dignity, The Hungry Steppe recovers for historians a little-known tragedy of Stalinism."

David Brandenberger, Professor of History, University of Richmond, and author of National Bolshevism:

"Sarah Cameron demonstrates the relevance of the long-overlooked Kazakh famine to many bigger historical questions. The end result is a damning indictment of Soviet nation building that covers new ground and adds important dimensions to one of the epic stories of twentieth century social transformation."

Audience: General/trade;