Reviews for Big Necessity : The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

Booklist Reviews 2008 October #1
*Starred Review* What could be more urgent, as the human population multiplies, than the sanitary disposal of human waste? And yet how rarely do we consider the "big necessity," as trailblazing journalist Rose George terms it. With this unique, alarming, and strangely fascinating book, George hopes to jolt us into awareness and action. The facts certainly are unnerving: 4 in 10 people, George tells us, have no access to sanitation, not even in the most rudimentary of forms. That's 2.6 billion people without latrines, let alone the flush toilets Americans take for granted. That's lot of you-know-what left untreated on the ground and in water sources, causing millions to suffer and die from fecal-carried disease. But George is no mere collector of statistics; she is an intrepid sanitation historian, explorer, and chronicler. She descends into the decaying sewers of London and New York, tests high-tech Japanese toilets, and travels to India, Africa, and China to speak with beleaguered sanitation reformers. In a particularly galling chapter, George reveals the surprising toxicity of "biosolids" used to fertilize fields in the U.S. Witty, anecdotal, and sharply informative, George's far-reaching expos ultimately recalibrates nothing less than our understanding of civilization. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 August #1
What's the single most significant factor in increasing the human life span? Forget antibiotics and penicillin--think toilets."Eighty percent of the world's illness is caused by fecal matter," writes British journalist George (A Life Removed: Hunting for Refuge in the Modern World, 2004) in her stupefying exploration of how we address, or fail to address, the rising global tide of human waste. It's not just that 2.6 billion of the world's inhabitants lack access to a toilet of any kind, so that "four people in ten live in situations where they are surrounded by human excrement." Even toilets are no guarantee of proper feces disposal. Until a few years ago, Milan piped its waste directly into the river Lambro. When too much storm water overloads Milwaukee's treatment system, it dumps raw sewage into Lake Michigan, which supplies the city's drinking water. George writes unflinchingly and with great style on this rarely explored topic, agreeing with Freud that humanity's "wiser course would undoubtedly have been to admit [shit's] existence and dignify it as much as nature will allow." She sallies forth into the bowels of London with its wastewater operatives. She examines the robo-toilets of Japan, which do everything from washing and drying the private parts to checking blood pressure. She attends a World Toilet Organization conference and returns with more beneficial information than could ever be gathered from the other WTO. She visits with India's "manual scavengers," whose job is to remove feces wherever they present themselves, including the numerous dry latrines that consist of nothing more than two bricks. She considers the agricultural use of sludge--what's left after the water's gone--in China and the United States. She familiarizes herself with innovations in latrine design, wastewater treatment, composting toilets and stabilization ponds. She turns a critical spotlight on our Puritanical shame of body products and advises us to wise up. There is a reason that most creatures, unlike humans, don't foul their nests.An utterly disarming and engrossing tour of all things excremental. Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2008 June #1
With disease resulting from human waste killing more people worldwide than any other single cause, it's time to stop being so bashful about this subject. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews 2008 September #1

Disease spread by human waste is the major cause of death worldwide, and British freelance journalist George (A Life Removed: Hunting for Refuge in the Modern World ) was determined to find out what can be done to alleviate this public-health emergency. She traveled to Japan, China, India, Tanzania, London, New York, and other locales observing customs and attitudes regarding the disposal, handling, processing, and use of human waste. She discovered that humans dispose of excreta in toilets, pit latrines, buckets, fields, roads, backyards, and streets. She was also shocked by the appalling lack of adequate public toilets and aging sewage-handling systems in both developed and developing countries. She praises the heroes of Third World sanitation movements who are devising modern methods of human waste disposal to alleviate the crude and unsanitary habits that lead to illness, food contamination, and death. Readers may be surprised to learn that recycled water, fertilizer, energy, and biosolids (sludge) are major industries that depend upon human waste for survival. George leavens her serious, if unpalatable, topic with an elegant and witty prose style. An important book for a world that will have to face the consequences of human waste disposal in an age of rapidly expanding populations; strongly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/08; see also "Editors' Fall Picks," p. 28-33.--Ed.]--Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll. Lib.

[Page 157]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 August #2

With irreverence and pungent detail, George (A Life Removed ) breaks the embarrassed silence over the economic, political, social and environmental problems of human waste disposal. Full of fascinating facts about the evolution of material culture as influenced by changing mores of disgust and decency (the popularity of high-heeled shoes dates back to the time when chamber pots were emptied into the streets)--the book shows how even advanced technology doesn't always meet basic needs: using toilet paper is shockingly unhygienic and millions of government-built latrines in developing countries have been turned into goat sheds and spare rooms due to poor design, a lack of regular water supply or simply because the subsidized (and expensive) cement and stone structures are often more appealing than the village huts. George explores how discussions on the importance of clean drinking water and the eradication of infectious diseases euphemistically address how to handle human waste. From the depths of the world's oldest surviving urban sewers in to Japan's robo-toilet revolution, George leads an intrepid, erudite and entertaining journey through the public consequences of this most private behavior. (Oct.)

[Page 37]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2008 November

Adult/High School--London and New York sewer tunnels, Japan's robotic toilet industry, farming innovations in China, and the politics of public sanitation in India--past and present--are treated with forthright investigation, sensitivity to intercultural relations and experiences, and high good humor. The effects of urban living on people who don't have sufficient human-waste disposal systems include not only diseases, but also social constructions that follow them beyond their portable brick latrines and backside-cleansing tools. The privacy that Westerners have grown to insist on as part of the toileting experience hampers travelers in parts of the world where toilet stalls don't have doors, let alone where toilets don't have stalls. George interviewed locals, social reformers, engineers, and bureaucrats in search of filling in the details of the picture she creates, making this a thorough, highly informative, and thought-provoking account. Her writing style is a delight, assuring her a faithful audience even while she discusses topics most commonly left unspoken and unwritten about. Teens may pick this up first for the gross-out factor but will find it a wealth of scientific and political intrigue.--Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

[Page 158]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.