The best books for delivering the real scoop on poop, waste, and sanitation

Who am I?

I’m a trained microbiologist who received my doctorate from the University of Washington and who has long been fascinated by the natural world—whether microscopic or gigantic, within us or all around us. For more than 20 years, I’ve also been an award-winning science writer who has written for publications like The New York Times, Nature, Wired, and Scientific American. Ever since I wrote about the incredible ability of fecal transplants to cure a deadly bacterial infection, I’ve been obsessed with books that explore how the seemingly gross or ordinary things we often dismiss as lacking value have the power to transform both us and the planet.   

I wrote...

Flush: The Remarkable Science of an Unlikely Treasure

By Bryn Nelson,

Book cover of Flush: The Remarkable Science of an Unlikely Treasure

What is my book about?

The future is shit: the literal kind. We’ve long been misinformed, confounded, and even disgusted by our body’s natural product, the complex antihero in all of us. But if we were to take more than a passing look at our poop, we would spy a cornucopia of possibilities. We would see rich fertilizer, sustainable power, and a time capsule for understanding past lives and brutal ends. We would notice effective ways of measuring personal health, sounding the alarm on community outbreaks, and identifying environmental harm.

Flush is both an urgent exploration of the world’s single most squandered natural resource, and a cri de coeur (or cri de colon?) for the vast, hidden value in our “waste.” Sometimes, hope arrives in surprising packages.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

Why did I love this book?

Chelsea is a great science writer who has written a hugely important book filled with rich details, personal examples, and well-reasoned arguments.

She uses the toilet as the focal point of a wide-ranging investigation of why we desperately need to change course in how we think about and design where we go to the bathroom and what happens afterward. I loved how she used personal anecdotes, travel writing, and photos to humanize the book, illustrate her main points, and break down some of the enduring taboos around a range of bodily functions.    

By Chelsea Wald,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Pipe Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the 2022 NASW Science in Society Journalism Award
Longlisted for the 2022 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books

From an award-winning science journalist, a “deeply researched, entertaining, and impassioned exploration of sanitation” (Nature) and the future of the toilet—for fans of popular science bestsellers by Mary Roach.

Most of us do not give much thought to the centerpiece of our bathrooms, but the toilet is an unexpected paradox. On the one hand, it is a modern miracle: a ubiquitous fixture in a vast sanitation system that has helped add decades to the human life span by…

Book cover of The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste Into Wealth and Health

Why did I love this book?

One of the many things that astonished me about Lina’s lovely book is that although I put off reading it until I had finished my own book, for fear of too much overlap, I need not have worried.

She deftly uses different yet compelling examples for an exciting read that convincingly makes the case for giving a crap about crap. She also uses her own family’s history and experience as immigrants to provide some surprisingly moving scenes in support of her larger points.

Even after all the poop-related research I had done, I learned plenty more, which was a nice revelation: something that I thought I knew still had the ability to surprise me in profound ways.  

By Lina Zeldovich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Other Dark Matter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The average person produces about four hundred pounds of excrement a year. More than seven billion people live on this planet. Holy crap!

Because of the diseases it spreads, we have learned to distance ourselves from our waste, but the long line of engineering marvels we've created to do so-from Roman sewage systems and medieval latrines to the immense, computerized treatment plants we use today-has also done considerable damage to the earth's ecology. Now scientists tell us: we've been wasting our waste. When recycled correctly, this resource, cheap and widely available, can be converted into a sustainable energy source, act…

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ

By Giulia Enders, Jill Enders (illustrator),

Book cover of Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ

Why did I love this book?

This book not only provides a fascinating look at how we actually digest food, pluck out essential nutrients, and produce poop from the leftovers passing through the gut, but also includes charming and witty illustrations of many of these steps by the author’s sister, Jill.

An entire book about the gut? Yes, and it’s so interesting, with some gentle humor and well-thought-out analogies that help demystify what you’ll come to believe is a superhero of an organ.

I made notes, highlighted particularly illuminating sections, and found myself saying, “Wow! I didn’t know that!” throughout the book. It definitely gave me a new sense of wonder and appreciation for the intricate abilities of my own body.

By Giulia Enders, Jill Enders (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Gut as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


“Everything you ever wanted to know about the gut (and then some).”

Discover the secrets of your digestive system—and how to hone a healthy gut—plus new research on the mind-gut connection.

With quirky charm, science star and medical doctor Giulia Enders explains the gut’s magic, answering questions like: What’s really up with gluten and lactose intolerance? How does the gut affect obesity? What's the connection between our microbiome and mental health? Why does acid reflux happen? In this revised edition of her beloved bestseller, Enders includes a new section on the brain-gut connection,…

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

Why did I love this book?

This superb book was one of the first to raise the issue of how poorly we’ve considered our waste and what to do with it, and it was a big inspiration for me.

It’s thoughtful and incredibly well-researched, packed full of amazing historical details, and provides a compelling case for how and why we should get our shit together—literally. I learned so much from this book, and it really encouraged me to keep digging and exploring how we might reimagine our human output. Just an excellent read and a compelling case for change.  

By Rose George,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Big Necessity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Produced behind closed doors, disposed of discreetly, hidden by euphemism, shit is rarely out in the open in 'civilized' society, but the world of waste - and the people who deal with it, work with it and in it - is a rich one.This book takes us underground to the sewers of New York and London and overground to meet the heroes of India's sanitation movement, American sewage schoolteachers, the Japanese genius at the cutting edge of toilet technology and the biosolids lobbying team. With a journalist's nose for story and a campaigner's desire for change, Rose George also addresses…

Know Your Shit: What Your Crap Is Telling You

By Shawn Shafner, Rebecca Pry (illustrator),

Book cover of Know Your Shit: What Your Crap Is Telling You

Why did I love this book?

Shawn is fearless, good-hearted, and laugh-out-loud funny.

As an educator, performance artist, and founder of the POOP Project, he has dedicated much of his work to reducing the taboo and stigma of talking about our own bodies, especially the natural act of pooping. Mixing in his trademark humor with historical anecdotes and a genuine love of both people and the planet, this book will make you smile, laugh, and feel a deeper connection with a part of your body that deserves far more attention.

It’s a very fun and inspiring read about rejecting shame and celebrating your own inner power. 

By Shawn Shafner, Rebecca Pry (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Know Your Shit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pushing For Change from the Bottom Up!

Poop is a big deal. All people and all beings do it on any good day. It's basically at the center of everything. Know Your Shit lifts the lid off the potty taboo and breaks the stall doors down in search of the Perfect Poo. Along the way, learn what happens inside your body to make poo, how the process can go wrong, and simple fixes to make sure you stay in the Goldiplops Zone. Now, let us hold these poos to be self-evident; not all are created equal. But it is important…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in poop, the gastrointestinal tract, and innovation?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about poop, the gastrointestinal tract, and innovation.

Poop Explore 9 books about poop
The Gastrointestinal Tract Explore 6 books about the gastrointestinal tract
Innovation Explore 71 books about innovation

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Blue Zones, Gulp, and Woman if you like this list.