Whimsical attempt to find both entertainment and enlightenment in the sewage disposal.
Known primarily for his outdoor-based investigative adventures, Outside magazine contributor Carter (Westward Whoa, 1994, etc.) here ponders the myriad wonders of plumbing through the ages, particularly as applied to the disposal of human waste. Perhaps correctly anticipating some potentially negative reactions to the theme, the author chides society for attaching a stigma to the natural and necessary functions of defecation and urination. (That said, he eschews such terms as manure and fecal matter whenever possible and shows favoritism for the word “poop.”) This foray includes Carter’s minimally successful attempt to create a working water pipe from molten lead poured into a sheet mold in the manner of ancient Rome and his underground wade through London’s sewers (reminiscent of an aquarium tour but more graphically redolent). The author delves deeply into the early antecedents of the British water closet, including technical details quoted in the vernacular of the day from original documents (cited as proof that there were working johns long before Sir Thomas Crapper arrived in the 19th century to garner perhaps undeserved credit). A glimpse of the modern plumber’s routine underscores the author’s most serious take-away: Sewer gas can kill you in a couple of ways.
More bizarre than engaging: Poop happens, but not much else.