Sunday, August 3, 2014

Remaking the John, by Francesca Davis DiPiazza

If there's one modern convenience we wouldn't want to live without, I think the flush toilet would have to be it.  Sure, we love our refrigerators, TVs, microwaves, computers, cars, but the flush toilet has to rank above all of those.  In fact, as Francesca Davis DiPiazza points out in her new book, Remaking the John: The Invention and Reinvention of the Toilet, indoor facilities are not only convenient, a 2007 survey of doctors concluded that of all medical advances since 1840, "toilets and sewers beat them all.  The sanitary revolution won as the most important leap forward in health since 1840."

DiPiazza covers the history of toilets, or the lack of, beginning with the first indoor toilets in Skara Brae, in present-day Scotland, dating to about 5,000 years ago.  As long as towns were small and most people lived in rural areas, holes in the ground, using water sources such as streams, rivers, and man-made ditches to carry the waste away worked out OK.  But the more populations concentrated in cities, the more the waste accumulated and bred disease.

When addressing the reinvention of the toilet, DiPiazza describes various modern efforts to handle human waste in innovative ways.  The toilets we use today have been basically unchanged for a century or more.  But as populations grow, and water becomes more precious, some inventors are seeking ways to use less water in toilets.  It's a little shocking how many people around the world still don't have access to toilets, using the same kinds of methods that our ancestors used hundreds of years ago.  In order to spread the use of toilets and find new ways for toilets to function, groups like, the World Toilet Organization, and the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge raise funding and cultivate ideas.

Remaking the John is brief, and is written in an accessible style, and, despite the subject matter, does not resort to potty humor.  It can be easily read in one reading period at school, yet covers a lot of ground and offers suggestions for further reading.  Remaking the John would be a perfect addition to any elementary school or junior high library.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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