Book review: Who Owns The World?

Who Owns The World? The Surprising Truth About Every Piece of Land on The Planet is an encyclopedic accounting of land ownership on our globe. It is packed with fascinating facts: Did you know that Queen Elizabeth owns 1/6th of all the land on earth? Did you know that the largest private landowner in the U.S. is Ted Turner, who owns 1,800,000 acres of land? (Yes, all those zeroes belong in that number.) Have you ever heard of the British Indian Ocean Territory, a land area of 14,720 acres which is now believed to be used as a prison for those captured in the war on terror?

Though most of the 369-page paperback is devoted to information about who controls every square inch of land, authors Kevin Cahill and Rob McMahon explain their purpose in putting this book together: 
This book asserts that the main cause of most remaining poverty in the world is an excess of landownership in too few hands. This book will also assert that private ownership of a very small amount on land – one-tenth of an urban acre or an acre or two of rural land – granted to every person on the planet has the potential to, and, I believe, begin ending poverty on a global basis. The book will go further and reassert that the right to the direct ownership of land is a fundamental human right.

After a 60-page introduction that unpacks these assertions, the remainder of the book surveys every country of the world, giving information about population, size, gross national income, percentage of land held by private owners, a line or two about the country’s history, and an explanation of how the country is owned. 

The book doesn’t offer solutions to the inequalities presented in the book (a handful of kings, queens, sheiks, religious institutions and individuals control most of the land on earth) or do much to tackle the dicey issues of political and/or ethnic identity that have shaped most modern nation-states. But then again, it isn’t meant to do so. Who Owns The World? tells a compelling, unsettling story with stats, and is an interesting reference tool for students and those interested in international politics. 


Note: I received this book as a review copy.

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