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Remaking the John: The Invention and Reinvention of the Toilet

Remaking the John: The Invention and Reinvention of the Toilet

by Francesca Dipiazza

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Lisa Czirr
According to this nonfiction book, an average person produces 182 pounds of feces and 134 gallons of urine a year, so it’s no wonder that humanity has always been challenged by the problem of waste disposal. Before there were efficient sewers, the unfortunate consequence was a noxious build-up in the streets of large cities. In this book, Dipiazza explores the historical development of the toilet specifically and sanitation in general. The opening chapter begins with a discussion of ancient toilet equivalents, leading up to the 1500s. Each subsequent chapter examines the next few centuries, ending in the present and even speculating about potential future developments. Toilets and sewage systems went through a great deal of evolution over time. The author also explains how scientific understanding developed, beginning with the miasma theory and leading up to our current knowledge about germs. The theme of sanitation is linked throughout the book to a broader historical context, such as inefficient sewage disposal contributing to the 14th century bubonic plague, or to the cholera outbreak in 1830s America. There is a table of contents and an impressive collection of references. Photographs throughout the book depict historical toilets and related items, as well as modern-day images. Extra text boxes supplement the material with related facts, such as the etymology of toilet-related words. This book is fascinating, informative, and would be very accessible to young adults, given both the content and the writing style. Reviewer: Lisa Czirr; Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Whether you call it the loo, the privy, the throne, the john, the jakes, or the latrine, the modern toilet is a major contribution to health and convenience. DiPiazza's readable text follows the ancient history of the potty all over the world, in such disparate places as Skara Brae (Scotland), Moheno Daro (Pakistan), and imperial Rome (whose abundant water supply, fine engineering, and Tiber River allowed construction of public toilets with multiple seating!). The fall of Rome apparently meant the fall of the toilet, too, and the following Dark Ages were dark indeed when it came to sanitation. The author goes on to cover the consequences of a lack of properly constructed toilet and sewage systems: diseases, stenches, nasty walking surfaces, and a grossly polluted water supply, among them. She mentions mod cons, such as the space toilet and the decomposting toilet much admired by "greenies," and the problems encountered by the millions who have no access to modern sanitation. Blue information boxes focus on such topics as a modern sewage treatment plant, sewer blockages, and toilet paper. Black-and-white and color photos lend visuals. Neither as simple as Connie Miller's colorful Getting to Know Your Toilet: The Disgusting Story Behind Your Home's Strangest Feature (Capstone, 2008) nor as demanding as Sarah Albee's lighthearted but seriously informative Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up (Walker, 2010), this honest, fact-filled little book should attract readers and researchers (who may even begin celebrating World Toilet Day every November 19).—Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A brief history of the crapper. The toilet and its use has been called pretty much everything under the sun, from thunder bowl to "plucking a rose," when the outhouse was located in the garden. DiPiazza covers them all in her illuminating history of the toilet—or, more to the point, disposal of human waste: "Half a solid pound (0.2 kilograms), plus 47 ounces (1.4 liters) of liquid....that's how much feces and urine an adult human produces, on average, every day." Those words are from the first two sentences of the book, so the giggles and snorts are dispensed with quickly, and we get down to the very real issue of waste and health. As humans took to settlements and populations increased, sewage became an instant issue. DiPiazza goes back to Deuteronomy for some historical setting before soldiering through most known waste-disposal tools and systems. Lurking always is waste-bred disease, like plague and cholera, which really step hard on the giggles and snorts. Public health and sanitation become the driving issues, which DiPiazza handles adeptly, with the accompaniment of many fine archival images and illustrations, as well as photographs. A good-spirited, wholly serious broaching of the—incredibly—still-taboo subject of human waste, once a problem and even more so today. (Nonfiction. 11-18)

Product Details

Twenty-First Century Books (CT)
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.50(d)
1110L (what's this?)
Age Range:
11 - 17 Years

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