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...

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!

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Why did I love 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. 

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"America's funniest science writer" (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn't the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By David Waltner-Toews,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Origin of Feces takes an important subject out of locker-rooms, potty-training manuals, and bio-solids management boardrooms into the fresh air of everyone’s lives. With insight and wit, David Waltner-Toews explores what has been too often ignored and makes a compelling argument for a deeper understanding of human and animal waste. Approaching the subject from a variety of perspectives ― evolutionary, ecological, and cultural ― The Origin of Feces shows us how integral excrement is to biodiversity, agriculture, public health, food production and distribution, and global ecosystems. From the primordial ooze to dung beetles, from bug frass, cat scats, and…

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

Why did I love 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. 

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

Why did I love 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! 

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?

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. 

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 Gut, The Remarkable Life of the Skin, and Pump if you like this list.