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

The Books I Picked & Why

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

By Mary Roach

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. 


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

By David Waltner-Toews

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. 


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Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

By Chelsea Wald

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. 


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

By Rose George

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! 


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Know Your Shit: What Your Crap Is Telling You

By Shawn Shafner, Rebecca Pry

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. 


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