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The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters Hardcover – October 14, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 241 ratings

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ 0805082719
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (October 14, 2008)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9780805082715
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0805082715
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.05 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.32 x 1.01 x 9.52 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 241 ratings

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Rose writes about subjects that are hidden, taboo, ignored or misunderstood. Her first book looked at what it's really like to be a refugee: how do you wash in the jungle with no soap? What are "refugee windows"? The Big Necessity explored the modern state of sanitation, starting from the startling fact that 2.5 billion people have no toilet, and passing through how sewers function (when people throw fat, wet-wipes and motorbike parts down them); why Japan has the most advanced toilets in the world; and why diarrhoea, an easily preventable condition, is the second biggest killer of children under 5, worldwide.

For Ninety Percent of Everything, Rose ran away to sea on a container ship, wanting to know who worked in the industry that carries nearly everything we consume, yet remains ignored and invisible. Under its UK title, Deep Sea and Foreign Going, the book won the 2013 Mountbatten Maritime Prize, and was a Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4.

Rose's latest book heads inside the body to look at blood, a marvellous substance that can kill us or save us; that is feared and revered. She travels widely to understand how our blood supply works; why menstrual blood is still considered so taboo, girls are ostracized for having periods; how modern trauma care is maybe using the wrong kind of blood; why leeches are still found in hospital pharmacies; and why thousands of people are still seeking justice after they were given contaminated blood products. There are also some vampires.

Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5
241 global ratings

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