Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Big Necessity

The Big Necessity: the Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters
© 2008, 2014 Rose George
238 pages

In its initial publication, The Big Necessity may have been an eye-opening look into how many human beings still suffer for want of life-saving sanitation. Already familiar with the sorry state of toilet affairs in parts of the global south, though, I read and enjoyed this more as the story of governments, charitable organizations, private citizens, and small businesses who are steadily working to bring their places to health. The solution is not always technological, although reading about home digesters that convert offal into kitchen gas and fancy Japanese toilets is most interesting. (The digesters are particularly important: not only do they give households a degree of self-sufficiency, they guard against local trees being stripped for fuel, and save China's rural households money in terms of domestic fuel and fertilizer.) A culture of hygiene must always be fostered, and through means that take into account the local culture. The Big Necessity provides a call to arms,  takes readers into the sewers of NYC and London as well as the  Chinese countryside, and offers a view of toiletry's cutting edge. A very interesting book all around, then, and with only the faintest whiff of toilet humor -- the sole instance of which is that George refers to something as execrable.

George is also the author of Ninety Percent of Everything, known in the UK as Deep Sea and Foreign Going: Inside Shipping.

Flushed! How the Plumber Saved Civilization, W. Hodding Carter


  1. Wow! 'Tis clear evidence that anything is fair game for a book length treatment. I once read two books that I thought had been over-the-top specialization and limitation: one on corn, and one on oysters. The one you discuss, however, takes the cake. (Ouch! That metaphor just doesn't work, does it?)

  2. There's always:

    Cod: A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World by Mark Kurlansky and

    Salt - A World History by the same author!

  3. I enjoyed both of those...I think he has one out now on "Paper"!


Thank you for visiting! Because of some very clever spambots, I've had to start moderating comments more strictly, but they're approved throughout the day.