I have never been inclined to learn much about our sewage systems and the people who monitor them. I remember taking a biology field trip to a “lake” (my teacher’s idea of a sick joke), which was actually the sewage treatment facility for my small town, only to learn that I would lose my sense of smell for four hours after we had left and that I would never eat duck. Needless to say I spent too much time trying hard to control my gag reflex that I didn’t learn much on that trip.
But it did give me a healthy respect for the people who make our waste their career. In my mind they have always been either very brave, suffering from a sever case of anosmia, or extremely crazy… or all three. But I didn’t really know much about what their job entails (again, I wasn’t paying attention during my high-school torture trip), and I’m always a little curious about those jobs that really are made for a special type of person. After all, I think sewage maintenance is an extremely important job, and the workers who make sure everything runs smoothly are as heroic as firefighters. After all, if they didn’t do their work, then the sewage could be going anywhere, like into our water. And before you know it, hello cholera!
Which is why I was excited to read The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George. Finally! A book that is readable, interesting, and in a way heartbreaking… and it is all about our excrement and the people who deal with it. Containing facts about our sewage systems, innovative toilets from Japan, a discussion about the benefits of paper vs. water (for cleaning), and how sanitation can make or break a country in terms of health, economy, and overall happiness. The heartbreaking part? Not enough people care. They don’t want to talk about this sort of thing. It’s a private matter. So what if the infrastructure is so old that it is breaking down? So what if our toilet design is inefficient? So what if our culture of paper is actually incredibly unhealthy? It’s been done this way for years and no reason to fix it now.
Well, this is where Rose George and hundreds of other toilet and sanitation advocates disagree with you. In her book , Rose brings persuasive examples and stories of why change is needed. Of why London and New York don’t have enough sewage workers. Of why African school children would rather use their playground than the bathroom (I almost cried, seriously). And more importantly for those of you who love to travel… why you never order salad in rural China. I found her writing easy to follow and engaging. Not once did I feel as though I had been lost in the translation between regular speech and jargon.
Other Boring but Important Info:
Reading Time: 2 days. Give it time to sink in.
Re-Readability: 1/5 – I would probably only read sections of it to brush up on facts, not the entire book.
Price: Chapters – $14.44 / Amazon – $15.44 / No e-book formats available.