The twentieth century saw the virtual elimination of famine across most of the globe, but also witnessed some of the worst famines ever recorded. The causes usually given for these twentieth-century famines differ from those given for earlier famines, which tend to be more often blamed on harvest failures per se than on human agency. This paper reassesses two of the last century's most notorious famines, the Chinese Great Leap Famine of 1959–61 and the Great Bengal Famine of 1943–4, in the light of these rival perspectives.