The best books on the wild and wacky science of human waste that’s not waste at all

Who am I?

Born and raised in Russia, I watched my grandfather fertilize our family’s organic orchard with composted sewage every fall. “You have to feed the earth the way you feed people,” he said, essentially describing what today we call a circular economy. I thought the whole world did the same—until I grew up and learned that most people flush their humanure down the toilet. That hurts the planet’s ecology in multiple ways. It depletes farmlands that must be replenished by syntenic fertilizers which are polluting to produce, and it overfertilizes rivers, lakes, and the ocean, causing toxic algae blooms. I wanted humans to know about People’s Own Organic Power aka POOP!


I wrote...

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

By Lina Zeldovich,

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

What is my book about?

Grossly ambitious, wildly humorous, and rooted in scientific research, The Other Dark Matter shows how human excrement can be a lifesaving, money-making asset. When recycled correctly, this resource—cheap and widely available—can be converted into a sustainable energy source, act as an organic fertilizer, serve as medicine for antibiotic-resistant infections, reduce toxic algae blooms, and much more. With seven billion of us on this planet, each dishing out a pound of it a day (holy crap!) we excel at replenishing it.

The book implores us to use our innate organic power for the greater good, and for the planet’s sake. And as a health bonus, readers take a deep dive into stool banks and fecal transplants. You will never flush the same way again!

The books I picked & why

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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

By Mary Roach,

Book cover of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Why this book?

I love this book because Mary Roach literally takes you on a walking tour of the alimentary canal more commonly known as the gastrointestinal tract—starting from the mouth and down to the anus, checking out everything that lies in between. It’s a wild and wondrous, Magic-School-Bus type of way to learn how your food gets digested, how your body absorbs it, and why it converts the undigested nutrients into what comes out the other end. I recommend this book because it is a great window into the unseen world of digestion in all its fecal and fickle beauty. 


The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us about Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society

By David Waltner-Toews,

Book cover of The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us about Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society

Why this book?

I love this book because it turns everything we think we know about poo on its head. If there was one definitive pathogen-laden substance your mother told you to never touch, poop is it! We’re all naturally disgusted by it. But feces, whether human or animal, are as natural as air, and are absolutely essential for thriving ecosystems, for soil health, and even for climate change. In nature, what’s one species trash is the other species treasure, and no one portrays this better than David Waltner-Toews, as he describes why dung beetles feast on doodies and why some animals eat their own droppings. The planet has a use for everybody’s poo, including ours, so you will have a newfound appreciation of excrement after reading this book. 


Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

By Chelsea Wald,

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

Why this book?

I recommend this book because it completely reshapes our view of the toilet—a fixture most of us don’t give much thought to. Yet, this modern miracle of convenience is, at the same time, a huge failure--less than half of the world’s population has access to safe toilets. What’s more, our Western toilets are a massive waste of resources—water, energy, and the organic fertilizer that sewage can be converted to. Wald shows why toilets desperately need a massive upgrade and opens our eyes to what toilets can be—if we care to revamp them. She also adds why we may not have a choice in the matter because resources aren’t infinite. 


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

By Rose George,

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

Why this book?

This is the book that rocked the boat and broke the taboos surrounding the topic of human bodily excretions. The book dug into the stinky topic with dignity and candor, clearly explaining how crucial sanitation is to human health, life, and wellness. Rose George took us around the globe, unveiling the cultures, traditions, and inhibitions surrounding human toilet habits. And in doing so, she graphicly portrayed how lack of sanitation threatens human life, and kills more people than any single disease. I found this book to be a sanitation inspiration and indispensable primer on humanity’s big necessity. And I loved it because it resonated with my own view that fecal matters matter! 


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 this book?

This book will break any remaining taboos around the topic. Full of delectable bodily humor and poopy puns, it unveils the science of our guts and the substance it produces in a manner digestible by anyone, from children to teenagers to adults. I liked how it explains—with endless witticisms—what causes intestinal mishaps like constipation and diarrhea, and how to find your “goldiplops zone” of the perfect poo. It also instructs you to heed what your feces are telling you before you flush and summons you to love your anus because without one you’d be in deep shit. It is a deep dive into where the sun don’t shine and it’s surely worth the effort. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the gastrointestinal tract, innovation, and sociology?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the gastrointestinal tract, innovation, and sociology.

The Gastrointestinal Tract Explore 6 books about the gastrointestinal tract
Innovation Explore 35 books about innovation
Sociology Explore 61 books about sociology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Steve the Dung Beetle on a Roll, Cravings: An Extreme Horror Novelette, and The Poop Song if you like this list.