The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (Hardcover)
An utterly original exploration of the world of human waste that will surprise, outrage—and entertain
Produced behind closed doors, disposed of discreetly, and hidden by euphemism, bodily waste is something common to all and as natural as breathing, yet we prefer not to talk about it. But we should—even those of us who take care of our business in pristine, sanitary conditions. For it’s not only in developing countries that human waste is a major public health threat: population growth is taxing even the most advanced sewage systems, and the disease spread by waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death. Even in America, 1.95 million people have no access to an indoor toilet. Yet the subject remains unmentionable.
The Big Necessity takes aim at the taboo, revealing everything that matters about how people do—and don’t—deal with their own waste. Moving from the deep underground sewers of Paris, London, and New York—an infrastructure disaster waiting to happen—to an Indian slum where ten toilets are shared by 60,000 people, Rose George stops along the way to explore the potential saviors: China’s five million biogas digesters, which produce energy from waste; the heroes of third world sanitation movements; the inventor of the humble Car Loo; and the U.S. Army’s personal lasers used by soldiers to zap their feces in the field.
With razor-sharp wit and crusading urgency, mixing levity with gravity, Rose George has turned the subject we like to avoid into a cause with the most serious of consequences.
“Rose George's subject—the global politics of defecation—is both superbly indelicate and morally imperative. With the basic health and dignity of several billion poor people at stake, we need to take s**t seriously in the most literal sense. Human solidarity, as she so passionately demonstrates, begins with the squatting multitudes.”—Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums
“In Rose George’s hometown in England, impoverished immigrants took up residence in the new public latrines. (‘Fighting over the more spacious disabled cubicle was fierce.’) Which is worse? Living in a toilet or living without one? George bravely—and sometimes literally—submerges herself in the tragedy and occasional comedy of global sanitation. Sludge, biogas, New York City sewage: I ate it up and wanted more! The most unforgettable book to pass through the publishing pipeline in years.”—Mary Roach, author of Stiff
"This fascinating, wise, and scrupulously drawn portrait of the world and its waste will last long as a seriously important book. Like a literary treatment farm, it manages to turn the completely unpalatable into something utterly irresistible. Rose George, a brave, compassionate, and ceaselessly impeccable reporter—and, when needed, a very funny one too—has performed for us all who care a very great service. A big necessity, indeed."—Simon Winchester, author of The Man Who Loved China
"This engaging, highly readable book puts sanitation in its proper place—as a central challenge in human development. Rose George has tackled this critical topic with insight, wit, and a storyteller’s flair."—Louis Boorstin, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
"Rose George has trolled the gutters of the world for the predictable low-matter and come up with something weirdly spiritual. Worship the porcelain god, revere its ubiquity and protest its absence: George reveals that the act of private and sanitary defecation is the key to health, the wealth of nations, and even civilization itself."—Lisa Margonelli, author of Oil on the Brain