I see all five prior reviews are five-star, low-content blurbs posted by people who have never reviewed other books on Amazon, only one of whom provides a name. This ballot-stuffing is an unfortunate trend, in this case accompanied by "helpful" votes to keep the shills above the unbiased reviews.
The strength of this book is detailed and readable portraits of farmers in all parts of the world. The author clearly loves farming--despite the fact that he modestly (or perhaps jokingly) relates that his farming family considered his agricultural skills to be a joke. He is a talented writer when describing personal experience. In the chain from farmer to market to consumer, it is the farmer's viewpoint that is least often described, so this book brings important new information to a wide public. Some aspects of farming haven't changed since its invention at the beginning of the Neolithic era, other aspects of modern global farming will surprise nearly everyone. Although my overall opinion of the book is negative, this is a real strength and people interested in this aspect may find this book useful.
The weakness of the book is represented by the inflammatory subtitle. It appears to conflate two near-contradictory claims. One is that long-term investors like pension funds going long futures contracts push up food prices and contribute to global hunger. The other is that speculators with no long-term interest in anything create volatility that inflicts economic damage on farmers. I happen to disagree with both those theses, but my point here is the author fails to articulate either one, or any intelligible theory. He merely quotes others, mostly others who also lack consistent theories. Even more puzzling is the reference to "unrest." Who other than a kleptocratic thug temporarily on the top of the heap thinks the global protest movement inspired in part by high food prices is a bad thing? The author discusses unrest so even-handedly that it's hard to know what side he's on. That may be okay for a journalist, but the subtitle suggests a opinionated book.
The references to commodity exchanges seem stitched on to the book. There is some very superficial description of futures (a far better account can be found in Zero-Sum Game). The degree of the author's interest can be seen by his frank admission that he had written about commodity exchanges for years without actually visiting one. There is no link between his brief accounts of the Chicago Board of Trade and his stories of farmers. In fact, there is considerable indirect evidence in the book, including a dramatic graph, of futures exchanges smoothing commodity price fluctuations and keeping food price inflation down. The documented barriers to farm prosperity and adequate nutrition seen in this book are wars, government repression, subsidies, trade barriers, lack of infrastructure and other non-financial problems. Multinational corporations, including Wal-Mart, play entirely positive roles. Whatever the truth is about the effect of commodity trading and global business on farm incomes and hunger, you won't find much guide to it in this book.
The same objection applies to a lesser degree in the accounts of world hunger. The value of a book is there is enough space to delve into the subtleties of an issue and discuss nuances with experts, unlike day-to-day reporting which is often forced to rely on oversimplified data and quotes provided by people whose jobs are to get certain viewpoints into the press. An excellent example of business reporters taking advantage of the book format is Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. That book does a good job of tuning out the hype and narrow-viewed advocacy to understand how to feed everyone and ensure a decent life for farmers without unacceptable environmental damage. Unfortunately Endless Appetites is based entirely on secondary sources, precisely the same advocates shouting slogans as you can read every day in the news.
For one example, the book claims, "Globally, changes in weather patterns may double food prices by 2030," and cites a Bloomberg News article. That article quotes an Oxfam press release predicting total food price increases by 2030, not the extra contribution from changing weather patterns. That Oxfam press release cites a computer analysis the organization commissioned from Dirk Willenbockel. That analysis showed food prices going up by less than 20% for processed food to a high of 89% for wheat, but only on the assumption there is no market response to increases in demand. Removing that assumption cuts the wheat increase to about 30% and the processed food increase to about 5%. The report also predicts that per capita income of the poorest people in the world will increase faster than even the high projections of food price increases. While no explicit projection is made about inflation, even a doubling of food price is only a 3.5% annual increase, which might well mean inflation-adjusted food prices fall. All of this information is available in a five-minute Internet search, and it completely changes the interpretation in the book. I checked a few of the less credible claims this way. All were based on advocacy group claims, and even so, none corresponded to the presentation in the book. Scanning the sources showed almost all to be brief business reports of press releases from advocacy groups. Those are not necessarily unreliable, but you expect a book to dig deeper.
So read this book for interesting and illuminating accounts of what it means to be a farmer in the modern world, but not for insight into financial markets or global hunger.