Science, Stories, and the Poetry of Life

The Origin of Feces

The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society (ECW Press, May 2013)
“One of the top-ten “Must-Read Think Books for Spring 2013” –

“One of the top-ten Best Summer Reading 2013″ – Publishers Weekly
“One of five books no guy should be seen to be reading in public” – Huffington Post

An entertaining and enlightening exploration of why waste matters, this cultural history explores an often ignored subject matter and makes a compelling argument for a deeper understanding of human and animal waste. Approaching the subject from a variety of perspectives — evolutionary, ecological, and cultural — this examination shows how integral excrement is to biodiversity, agriculture, public health, food production and distribution, and global ecosystems. From primordial ooze, dung beetles, bug frass, cat scats, and flush toilets to global trade, pandemics, and energy, this is the awesome, troubled, uncensored story of feces.

For a longer bibliography than you see in the book, check this Resource List

Also, for more resources, activities, initiatives related to the subjects in this book, check out my resources page here.

Read an original piece by David Waltner-Toews about “10 Ways Poop Can Save the Word”  on, a website devoted to books and readers, created in partnership with several publishers and industry leaders. You can read the piece here:

 “I cannot think of a more necessary work of popular science since [Michael] Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and [Eric] Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation,”  wrote Michael Bourne of The Origin of Feces in THE MILLIONS, a US-based online magazine that covers books, art, and culture.  You can read the full review here:

Montreal Gazette, May 24, 2013

The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology and a Sustainable Society has been drawing the kind of notices bestowed on such socio-cultural-historical-environmental studies as Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. Kitchener, Ont., veterinarian and epidemiologist David Waltner-Toews is out to make us all more aware of what happens after we flush, and while his book might not become the subject of a lot of chats around the dinner table, it definitely falls into the “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” category of popular science.

Erratum: several readers have pointed out to me an error on page 36 of the printed book. I said: “The waste that plants excrete (through the leaves) is mostly oxygen (at night) and carbon dioxide (by day).” My bad! This is incorrect. Plants combine carbon dioxide + water + light and produce sugars and oxygen. This is called photosynthesis. Obviously this only happens when there is light – sunlight in daytime, or under special lights. To grow, plants take the sugars & oxygen and produce energy (for growth etc) and carbon dioxide. This is called respiration, and happens 24 hrs a day.