The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth and Health (Hardcover)
Grossly ambitious and rooted in scientific scholarship, The Other Dark Matter shows how human excrement can be a life-saving, money-making resource—if we make better use of it.
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 as an organic fertilizer, provide effective medicinal therapy for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection, and much more.
In clear and engaging prose that draws on her extensive research and interviews, Lina Zeldovich documents the massive redistribution of nutrients and sanitation inequities across the globe. She profiles the pioneers of poop upcycling, from startups in African villages to innovators in American cities that convert sewage into fertilizer, biogas, crude oil, and even life-saving medicine. She breaks taboos surrounding sewage disposal and shows how hygienic waste repurposing can help battle climate change, reduce acid rain, and eliminate toxic algal blooms. Ultimately, she implores us to use our innate organic power for the greater good. Don’t just sit there and let it go to waste.
About the Author
Lina Zeldovich is a writer and editor specializing in the journalism of solutions. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Smithsonian, Popular Science, Scientific American, Atlantic, and Newsweek, among many other popular outlets, and she has won awards from the Newswomen's Club of New York, the Society of Professional Journalists Deadline Club, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. An immigrant from the former Soviet Union, she lives in New York City and keeps a compost pile in her backyard.
"A take on waste that's anything but wasteful—it's a fascinating dig into the history and science of handling human excrement. . . . Equally remarkable are Zeldovich's sections on the development and evolution of wastewater treatment plants. . . . Zeldovich is at home with an awkward subject, making for a grossly engrossing and vivid survey. Readers won't take the 'flush and forget' mindset for granted again."
— Publishers Weekly
"Zeldovich is an engaging writer. She loves puns and poop jokes. (Who doesn't?) And her travels around the world are, in their own scatological way, inspiring."
— Elizabeth Kolbert
"[An] original, necessary book."
"It would be easy for a book that focuses on obstacles to improving global sanitation, fixing the agricultural waste cycle, reducing pollution, and improving health to resort to paralyzing gloom. The Other Dark Matter does not shy from the enormity of the problems, yet suggests solutions are achievable, at scales from individuals to entire countries. Paced quickly with prose enlivened by the author's on-location reporting and personal experiences, the book is far from a grim slog through the world's sewers—it's more like an exciting tour in a biogas-powered balloon."
"The Other Dark Matter does not shy from the enormity of the problems, yet suggests solutions are achievable, at scales from individuals to entire countries. Paced quickly with prose enlivened by the author's on-location reporting and personal experiences, the book is far from a grim slog through the world's sewers — it's more like an exciting tour in a biogas-powered balloon."
"It's unusual to come across a book that makes you say, 'Oh, crap!' in a good way."
— American Scientist
“In bright and airy prose, she takes readers on a globe-spanning trip to sites where fecal material is reprocessed and figuratively turned into gold. . . . Readers should leave this book with a renewed interest in sustainable systems to manage what we normally put out of sight and out of mind."
— Natural History
“It is unquestionably [a topic] that—given the ever-increasing human population belaboring the planet—merits our attention if we are, ecologically and sustainably speaking, to prevent finding ourselves collectively up a famous creek without a propulsion device. Ms. Zeldovich’s new book looks to be an excellent way to introduce ourselves to it.”
— The Well-Read Naturalist
"Given the growing scale of public engagement in sanitation, there is a glut of books on the subject. Not all of them are readable, not all of them are well researched. This one is. It takes the technology questions further. It is an engaging read on a queasy topic"
"In writing a primer on poop and its possibilities, [Zeldovich] performs a much larger function: destigmatizing a vital biological product that has long gotten a bum rap."
— Columbia Magazine
"Some of the ideas in [the book] really feel like they could change the world in a major way. . . . It's really excellent."
— Across the Margin
"Even readers familiar with the history and ecology of waste management will not be disappointed. . . . As detailed as it is witty. . . . Given the growing scale of public engagement in sanitation, there is a glut of books on the subject. Not all of them are readable, not all of them are well researched. This one is. It takes the technology questions further. It is an engaging read on a queasy topic."
"This is some good shit, people. Not only entertaining, but deeply important. Everyone with a colon should read this book. Centuries back, people knew the value of shit. In countries with poor soil, human waste was like gold: people stole it, paid their rent with it, and gave it as gifts. Today, keeping it out of our waterways is our best hope for defusing what Zeldovich calls the Great Sewage Time Bomb. She is an ideal guide to this ridiculously fascinating world."
— Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
"Zeldovich shows to dazzling effect how a famously difficult subject—the often peculiar scientific history of human waste—can become an engrossing tale. The story is enlightening, surprising, occasionally enraging—and wholly worth your time."
— Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Poison Squad
"Zeldovich shows that excrement can be useful, profitable, and anything but waste, and does this with warmth, curiosity, and humor. This book is a great companion should you wish to journey to the rich and still underexposed world of shit (and you should)."
— Rose George, author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters
"Here is an indispensable book about what we might call the Anthro-poo-cene. Humanity's current collision course with nature has everything to do with energy and how we abuse it—including the human waste products of our metabolic bodies. This lively and entertaining history is also full of innovative ways people are finally dealing with their you-know-what."
— Mary Ellen Hannibal, author of Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction
"Who knew our poop could be so fascinating and important? In her brilliantly reported and written new book, Zeldovich shows that now more than ever the health of humanity and the rest of nature depends on how we handle 'the other dark matter.'"
— John Horgan, author of Pay Attention: Sex, Death, and Science
"An intriguing, compelling, very human story of how a valuable resource has been used and squandered, thrown away, and rediscovered. It is a story of the people who, against a background of mockery and disbelief, have developed creative, lucrative, and ecologically viable options for reframing what many have seen as a 'problem' of 'waste disposal' into an opportunity for innovative resource use. It will have wide appeal to all intelligent readers, both within and well beyond academia."
— David Waltner-Toews, author of The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society