That's my description of the book on plumbing I'm currently reading, the one reviewed below. Spotty. I don't like parts of this book, it going into details I would definitely rather now go into at all. However, when one reads a popular history of plumbing one must be prepared to step around the dirty stuff. The book is an easy read, one I would have finished in four hours had it not been for the near constant interruptions that leave me just over half-way through as of this writing. The writing is magazine style, easy-breezy-cheesy, and not too involved for an evenings pleasure. It's about plumbing, and if one has an interest in public health, which is what draws me to this topic, this book is a fine dip into the nature of sewers and toilets and such, the very things that keep us from plagues and pandemics, that simple approach to living being one of the many benefits of Modernity.
At 238 pages, this paperback version is long enough to cover more than enough for most. Maybe home repair people will get a kick out of some of the anecdotes as the author tosses around personal asides and insights into plumbing, but for me the best parts are the historic, the brief forays into classical plumbing in the Asian sub-continent to Knossos to Greece and Rome; and the chapters dealing with public health in England over the past 200 years make it worth my while. For those of us who've spent time in Boston and know how vile the harbour was there's a nice chapter on how it was reclaimed, as was the Thames over the not too distant past.
Why read a book like this rather than simply take for granted the benefits of such things as waste-disposal? Let the author explain:
"Let there be no mistake. A clean modern water supply, working toilets, and environmentally safe sewage systems are what divide the successful from the unsuccessful, the comfortable from the uncomfortable, and the privileged from the unprivileged." You might know that at an intuitive level, but when one hears others extolling the virtues of "traditional cultures" and the sentimentalist philobarbrisms that condemn millions to death yearly, the hip and glib claiming how "happy" people are living in filth and mire, it's a fine thing to know more about the reality, to know the chilling realities of disease that wipes out villages and cities of living people and leaves in the wake more dying from the rot of the dead. To know the basics of why the modern world is better than not, that is to suddenly find oneself viscerally offended by the inanities of the foolish "liberal" cliche monger. Find out a bit about public health and the lack thereof, and then you'll find it's not tolerable to listen politely to fools at Manhattan cocktail parties mouthing smug sillinesses about "Natural and Authentic" people living "in a state of nature" and dying in filth because they don't know enough to keep their children alive.
About 200 years ago Britannia ruled the waves. Britain was the high point of Human culture, bar none. While Britain ruled an empire on which the sun never sat, "... by the early 1800s, more than two hundred thousand (private cesspools) dotted the city's [London's] alleyways and yards." So, one might think, it was a smelly and foul place to live. Ah, there's more. "England's infant mortality rate rose to close to 50 per cent. Babies were dying of infected drinking water perhaps killed by their own parents' waste, since, quite often, drinking supplies taken from the Thames were a stone's throw from a sewage discharge." Dead babies? It is a very unhappy sight, and one easily seen in most if not every Third World slum on Earth, places sprawling and spreading daily, all the while our Leftist critics of Modernity calling down capitalism and wealth as a curse on the people. Simple things we take for granted, sewers, the Left would deny the world because of "global warming" or a fear of "cancer-causing pvc plastics" or what-have-you. Modernity. This is a book to give you a quick and at least an occasionally fun view of the good of it-- and the bad of the lack.
Lots of interesting trivia here, some self-indulgent toilet humor, and some good facts and historical figures to make it plain just how good we have it and how good it should be for others if only we would encourage Modernity rather than wallowing in a trough of phony tears about how evil we are as exploiters and colonialists. The philobarbarists and sanctimonious pseudo-moralists, the neo-feudalist self-flagulents of sentimentality, flush 'em. Love plumbing.