The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

Book review by Deane Barker tags: science

This is a book about pooping. Not personally, but as a species. How we deal with our poop, around the world.

It’s what I call a “vignette book.” Over 10 or so chapters, the author tells disconnected stories that each explain some aspect of the story of poop.


  • The World Toilet Conference and advances in toilet technology
  • The problem of open defection in India
  • How sewers work and are cleaned
  • The problems with public toilets
  • The health problems of poor sanitation
  • What happens to “biomass,” which is the sludge left over after sewage is treated

The book doesn’t build linearly, like a textbook. It jumps around, each chapter being some story or anecdote about the subject.

It’s well-written. It’s chapter is engaging and interesting, and author really has a nice style. She gets a little lyrical in places – this is absolutely not a dry, factual dissection of the topic.

But I would have liked something a little more linear and constructive. It took me until 3-4 chapters in before I figured out the format and that no chapter really related to the chapter before it. This is personal preference, I guess.

The book is unquestionably interesting, and it discusses something that few books (or people) really care to discuss. I know a little more than when I started it, and that’s the whole point, I guess.

Book Info

Rose George

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