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Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization Hardcover – May 23, 2006

34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though it's a pretty safe bet that the only people who pick up this book will be those who interested in sewage, the author's easy humor, average homeowner's point-of-view, and excitement for his subject should ensnare the casual browser. The book's also extensive: Carter, a history and nature author, discusses water-delivery and sewage systems from the height of Rome to the sewers of London to present-day Boston. Anecdotes and interviews pair well with thorough history and technical explanation, and Carter reserves a chapter to discuss the plumber himself: his profession, his training, and why, in the case of a nuclear holocaust, plumbers "will be our knights in droopy jeans." Though he can be a little too loose with the toilet-humor (chapter 12 is called "The Power of Poop"), his populist, live-and-in-color approach could make this a crossover hit.
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"Hodding Carter has enough charm to fill a toilet tank, and I don't mean the new 1.6-gallon low-flush. No one else could make me laugh heartily while reading about the miraculous lead pipes of ancient Bath (which Hodding tries to replicate in his yard and nearly destroys his marriage and many of his brain cells). Thanks to Hodding, I know the most amazing things: medieval moats were cesspits, the original bio-warfare! Roman latrines were set up for conversation! The Great Stink of 1858 was conquered by an engineer whom London then thanked by naming a sludge barge after him! Got to love it all."-- Mary Roach, author of "Stiff" and "Spook"

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atria; 1st edition (May 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743474082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743474085
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Richards HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Most people just don't understand

the wonder of the flush

Now here comes Hodding with his book

To get you off your tush

The Romans they used aqueducts

The French called "Garde L'eau"

London stank before they learned

to use the water flow

Where now exists a porcelain bowl

With custom seat and lever

Once plagued the mighty London town

with cholera and fever

All the people in the world

Make tons of poop each day

We never bother where it goes

Once we flush it away

We need to find efficient ways

To utilize our waste

A topic that we all ignore

And treat with much distaste

So all hail the humble plumber-guy

No joking `bout the crack

Without his help the stuff you flush

may soon be coming back

A simple, concise, funny book

the writing's off the wall

The perfect gift for homeowners

for reading in the stall

Amanda Richards, July 7, 2006
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Carter, a "great sanitation scholar," gives us an outstanding tour of the world of plumbing; several tours, actually. One is the historical tour, from classical times to the present day and beyond. Carter goes back to the Romans, whose pipes made of lead ("plumbum" in Latin) gave us the word for plumber. The trip through time make brief stops in the dark ages, where monks railed against pagan rituals of water and washing, while quietly enjoying the highest levels of sanitation around. Carter's next historical high points come in the 18th and especially 19th century, when Europe finally recovered and surpassed the Romans' level of engineering sophistication. The story continues into today, with recent innovations like the 1.6 gallon flush, and into some truly exciting possibilities for the future of human waste processing.

Another kind of tour lets us visit the technologies of waste removal. Up until the 1800s, that largely consisted of an open window, a shouted warning to anyone passing below, and a mighty heave of the "thunder mug," which left the streets in a condition that beggars modern imagination. From there, Carter works up to the high-tech digesters that biologically decontaminate Boston's sewage stream, and to practical demonstrations of recovering energy from methane given off, or even bacterial fuels cells that generate electricity directly.

It's also a story of social progress. People live longer and fewer children die of disease spread by fecal contamination, to be sure. Carter also describes low-tech innovations in India that promise to improve the lives of the untouchable undercaste, once they are freed from the necessary but "unclean" duty of clearing away the human waste of India's hundreds of millions.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By uncgump on April 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book, if merely for its chosen subject matter, had a lot of promise. At times the author taps this promise well, but he often struggles with personal tangents which don't hold the interest of this reader. The best parts of the book are when he takes a broader view of the implications of water, waste, and plumbing for civilization; in this way, I thought the book closed well. The MAJOR weakness of this book is its total lack of illustrations or photos. There are many points at which he is describing spatially complex structures or contraptions, and a photo or diagram would serve the readers' understanding well. Why a book which is about engineering -- even if it is not an exceedingly serious text -- would not have graphics is beyond me.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on October 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Carter's book is a wonderful read. It's light hearted, slightly "off the wall" and very informative. Some of the information regarding ancient public and private sanitation systems was already known to me, but I was particularly impressed with the author's unwillingness to just take the historian's word on the subject as a given. His attempt to create a Roman style pipe was not only very funny, it was very informative. His search for a pipe in situ was impressive--not to mention enviable; I would love to hop a plane to a foreign land just to satisfy my own curiosity about some topic.

The book is very well written and pulls the reader along with its wit and humor. Although the subject is one few individuals actually take time to consider, it is one of the more important issues facing mankind even today. As the author notes, several million people in third world countries do not enjoy the benefits of clean water and sewage removal. When I took a class on the history of medicine some time ago one of the things pointed out was that despite the acknowledged technological changes in medicine, the two most significant events with respect to human health and longevity were the introduction of antibiotics and public sanitation. In fact, of the two, the latter is probably the more significant.

It was interesting to notice how fitful have been the advances in sanitation, especially since its significance was already recognized in prehistory. If the ancient people of the Indian subcontinent realized the benefit of the technology even before the advent of the written word, its slow progress seems odd. As the author points out, even the "modern" toilet is a 19th century product, which has changed only in minor details.
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