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on June 21, 2011
Every human being must eat food, drink beverages, and eliminate the fraction of the food and beverages that the body does not consume as fuel or use as building blocks. There are millions of books written about the food; there are obsessions about wine and liquor, and about soft drinks and water, and no shortage of literature and advertising about beverages. But most of us suppress thoughts about what happens to the fraction of the food and beverages that we eliminate; we just want it gone.

The Big Necessity is essentially a documentary book about a topic from which most want to change the subject. But it is a topic that cannot be ignored for long. How, then, does the compiler of the documentary manage to hold our attention?

Rose George does it with a light touch, a dose of humor. A recitation of statistics, a presentation of the mechanics of moving and treating human waste -- if that were all this book accomplished, the reader would put down the book before completing the first five pages, and the volume itself soon would become part of the waste disposal problem. So the text is laced with anecdotes, vignettes that make the reader want to grab a family member or colleague and say, "You've got to hear this."

The humor is the dose of sugar that helps the medicine go down, and makes the topic endurable. This book addresses an important topic about which most of us are ill-informed and should be better informed, and Rose George helps us along the way.
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on April 14, 2009
When I was young and living in very rural farm country and adventuring in the woods or hills and had to take a dump, I did what everyone else did: squatted, made some crap, wiped myself with a few leaves or a handful of grass, and moved on. (If the foregoing language disturbs you, then don't read this book; it's just as graphic, especially in the latter part.)

Now, imagine the teeming, close-living tens of millions in the slums and cities of developing countries--and even growing India--where, today, open defecation (that's the "polite" word, which is not that often used in the book) is the socially acceptable and often economically-necessary thing to do. Because it's cheap. There are no sewer systems, few toilets or even working public or private pit latrines. And where does this excreta go--be it India, Africa, China, Tibet, Mexico and even lesser sanitary places? Into the streets, ponds, rivers, oceans and even drinking water. Multi-tons of it everyday.

In some African countries, Tanzania and Kenya are two examples, the cheapest latrine is a plastic bag: "defecate, wrap, and throw. Anywhere will do, though roofs are a favorite" (pg. 210). Millions upon millions of people world wide have to make a choice when it comes to ridding themselves of excrement: "contaminating the environment or contaminating human settlement" (pg 222).

This book is shocking, but it has to be. Fortunately, in the beginning, the author spares us the worst part of the history (and history-in-the-making) of sanitation by discussing the glories of the sewer systems in Britain and the U.S. Then, she moves to other parts of the world. I began to think to myself, "Why would I want to tourist in certain countries when I could easily step in human feces--yes, it's everywhere (sidewalks, roads, inside public buildings, alleys, et cetera)--and also have no facility to relieve myself? At first, I thought the author must be exaggerating (it can't be THAT bad), but she produces all kinds of evidence: statistics, quotes and her own experiences.

Even in the good ole USA, pharmaceuticals can be found in drinking water: meds for heart disease, mental illness, epilepsy, et cetera. These trace amounts deform frogs and fish. The effect on humans? Not yet known.

The author makes a strong case for prioritizing the subject of removing and using human waste. But few want to talk about it or spend money on it. Hopefully, her book, and others, will enlighten people (politicians, especially).
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on October 4, 2010
According to the United States Census Bureau, there are approximately 6 873 000 000 people on the planet. Each one of those individuals defecate at least once a day. Have you ever wondered where all that brown stuff goes? Well, this book doesn't have all the answers, but it is a great start to informing ourselves on a subject matter that is critically important to our health and well being but shunned by most of academia and people in general.

Written in an entertaining style, the writer is thorough in her investigation. She covers a lot of ground, tirelessly traveling to multiple corners of the world investigating people's toilet habits, where the sewage goes, and what we do with it.

The reader may be surprised to learn that in places like India, millions of people not only do not have access to toilets or baths, but don't even have a private place to defecate. Public defecation is common. Women in such places do their best to hold it in until dark. As a result, urinary infections, vaginal infections, and scabies are rampant. Something referred to as a "flying toilet" is common in Africa, which consists of a plastic bag full of fecal matter that has been thrown wherever is convenient, such as in an alley or on someone's roof top, because of a lack of suitable facilities to defecate.

Most Americans aren't aware that urine forms a fine mist when the toilet is flushed, that will spread around the room unless the seat cover is down when the toilet is flushed. Which raises further interesting questions. Some of which are, how many people lower the toilet seat after defecating, before flushing the toilet? What is in the mist caused by that flush? Where do most Americans keep their toothbrushes?

This is a well written book, written in a style that makes it as pleasant as possible to read about an unpleasant but important subject. We are all human with physical needs that it does no one any good to ignore. The population of this planet is growing exponentially. Diseases incubated in the third world such as "SARS" and "H1N1", formally known as the "Swine Flu", are easily transported to the first world through modern air travel.

The world's brown matter (Amazon won't let me use the word I want to) is a concern for all of us. Read this book to find out why. Have a few laughs along the way. Then lets get busy making this a topic of discussion for the good of us all.
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on December 29, 2013
Who would ever know about the intricacies and issues surrounding human excrement were it not for a book like this? I just "go" and flush, giving no further thought to the journey my output takes after it leaves my shiny bathroom.
This book makes one think about a subject we never do think about. Down the pipes and flushed away somewhere is all the thought I ever give to the bodily functions we all carry on with all day long.
I found the truths and realities in this book astonishing and scary. We must make this topic a priority at all levels of business, politics and the man on the street.

Hooray for Rose George for telling us about the realities of the world of shit and urine and not trying to be polite about it. It's a book we all need to read so that psychological and infrastructure issues, and solutions concerning poo and pee can be addressed openly and promptly.
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on June 6, 2016
I agree with the other reviews that this is a half-heartedly researched travelogue and a spotty survey of the topic. I couldn't finish it and probably won't read another book by this author, even though I'm interested in the topics she writes about and like hearing her discuss them in interviews.
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on May 13, 2017
We all go to the toilet, but how did it evolve, what are some different hygienic customs around the world, and what about the masses of people who still don't have toilets? I enjoyed this book.
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on February 3, 2014
Who would have thought a book about, er, human waste and its disposal (or lack thereof) would be fascinating, funny, almost impossible to put down?

But it was. I have learned things I never knew (some of which I still sort of wish I never knew) and come to a whole new level of appreciation for sewers and those who make sure they continue to function. And I've tremendous gratitude for having lived my entire life (well, so far) in countries with sewers. Made me a bit concerned about the water I drink, though....

The book is so well written, I'll be first in line to read her next book.
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on September 28, 2013
Our bodies excrete waste every day! About 863 million people live in slums. We know how waste is dealt with to some degree in the U.S., but what about the rest of the world? Take an informed tour of this unseen world with a readable and knowledgeable writer named Rose George. Rose has traveled the world in search of information and answers and visited some of the places you would least want to. This is an informative read on the world of defecation and its relationship to healthy living. Do we have the best answer? Maybe not.
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on July 4, 2014
Truly a literary masterpiece about eliminating elimination as a threat to man’s survival -- and revising receptacles (or lack of) around the world. The span of researched information and scope of travel for observations and interviews is beyond impressive. And such documentation is written so that innumerable times, reading alone, I laughed aloud -- and often, otherwise, experienced eye-moistening poignancy and empathy.
This is a must read from which even a reviewer’s most effusive superlatives would detract.
This is a book which (and whose author) would be honored even if it were just used as your “toilet-read”. This writer really knows her s . . . !!
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on October 25, 2017
Very informative, but a bit over-written and technical in spots. Good for raising awareness to something we take for granted in the west. Good on spotlighting sanitation and health issues.
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