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The Big Necessity

Awards: YALSA Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners

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Press Release

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   Contact: Maggie Sivon, Assistant Director of Publicity

On sale: July 7, 2009


The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

by Rose George


“Always articulate and persuasive…you will be hard-pressed to put this extraordinary book down.”
––The New York Times

“One smart book…delving deep into the history and implications of a daily act that dare not speak its name.”

“Written with tact, sensitivity, and the right amount of style, The Big Necessity makes a passionate argument for putting sanitation at the top of the world’s development agenda.”
––Time Magazine

“[Written] with wit and style…Valuable and often entertaining…Should become a classic in the annals of coprology.” —Los Angeles Times

“Superb…The Big Necessity belongs in a rare handful of studies that take a subject that seems fixed and familiar and taboo and make us understand it as historically contingent and dazzingly intriguing.  Jessica Mitford did it with her classic study The American Way of Death; Michel Foucault did it with Madness and Civilization. Rose George has produced their equal: a gleaming toilet manifesto for humankind.”

 “The Big Necessity, Rose George’s perfectly disquieting new book, is very good… With wit, narrative skill, and compassion, it allows us to examine a major international public health nuisance… That’s not to say that the book is all gloom and doom or a ponderous drag. In fact, it’s a breeze. Ms. George is a lucid, supple writer, and approaching the subject as a journalist, she’s able to tell her story on several different registers. And, quite honestly, the topic is fascinating.”
New York Observer

“A persuasive volume.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Delves into the taboo subject with tact, sensitivity—and the right amount of style…George introduces the reader to a fascinating and enlightening universe.”—Time

“Fascinating and eloquent.”—The Economist

“The weight of information that Rose George brings to The Big Necessity is astonishing…There are so many interesting stories in the book that I wanted to tell everyone about what I learned.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, global warming—these are the most commonly considered threats to our world’s stability. There is, however, a much larger threat out there, looming every day in our homes, under our streets, in our waterways. The imminent danger is human waste, and no one talks about it because it all comes down to what we do in the bathroom and how that affects the world.

Just in the nick of time, journalist Rose George breaks the taboo and travels the world to expose the threat of sewage, from the slums of Mumbai to the luxury-commode industry in Japan. Now available in paperback, THE BIG NECESSITY: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (Holt Paperbacks/ July 7, 2009) is an illuminating and even entertaining examination of our by-products and a call to launch a larger discussion before millions more die.

Some 2.6 billion people do not have sanitation, and for the rest of the world that does, they are sitting on a ticking time bomb, as population growth puts enormous stress on sewage systems. George descended sewers in London, Paris, and New York to experience firsthand how they work and where the cracks are. She tells the history of London’s sanitation, from bedpans dumped out of windows to the first public toilets. She also goes to India, Africa, and Asia to witness the worst conditions and their repercussions, which include a high dropout rate for schoolgirls because of diarrhea and environmental disasters caused by improperly disposed waste.

Alongside George’s explorations of how and where people are going, THE BIG NECESSITY also investigates innovations in recycling and disposing of human waste. She has a hilarious encounter in Tokyo with a salesgirl for TOTO, manufacturer of a toilet that performs a multitude of functions, and goes into homes in China’s countryside to experience “biogas digesters,” which turn waste into fuel. George discovers how deep bathroom habits permeate a culture and how that can help or hinder proper disposal.

In addition to the call to improve sanitation worldwide and change the way we talk about it, THE BIG NECESSITY is filled with great wit, humor, history, and fascinating anecdotal details. George is an exciting writer with a passionate, accessible style, and THE BIG NECESSITY is an important and surprising work that addresses the one issue that affects every person on the planet, a number of times a day.

Rose George has written for The Nation, Slate, Details, The New York Times, and many other publications. She graduated from the University of Oxford and holds a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. Her writing assignments have included covering Saddam Hussein’s birthday party in Tikrit and reporting on the Alternative World Cup soccer final between Bhutan and Montserrat. Her first book, A Life Removed, about Liberian refugees, was long-listed for the Lettre Ulysses Award for literary reportage. She lives in London.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Rose George, please contact Maggie Sivon at 646-307-5240 or maggie.sivon@hholt.com

The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters
by Rose George
Holt Paperbacks
On sale: July 7, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9083-3; $15.00