Penn Reading Project Flushes Out Toilet Taboos as University Kicks Off Year of Water Celebration

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Media Contact:Julie S. McWilliams | | 215-898-1422 August 4, 2010

PHILADELPHIA –- The “Unmentionable World of Human Waste” will get more than just mentioned when Rose George’s “The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters” takes its place as the text for the 2010-11 Penn Reading Project at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Sept. 5, incoming students will join with faculty leaders to discuss the book as the first University activity centered around the Year of Water, an academic theme that involves multidisciplinary activities across Penn’s 12 schools and several resource centers, including Penn Museum, Earth and Environmental Sciences and Civic House, as well as outside organizations such as the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative.  Year of Water programming will feature lectures and symposiums with scholars in the field, conferences, site visits and more.

In “The Big Necessity,” the author, a Penn alumna, addresses one of the few remaining taboos: human waste disposal.  The book discusses differing cultural practices while also revealing the global health problem of sanitation and the need to provide people with functioning toilets.

In her book, George points out that disease spread by bodily waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death.  Questions of environmental sustainability surface as well, as toilets are responsible for the single largest use of water in American homes.

The Penn Reading Project, now in its 20th year, was created as an introduction for incoming freshmen to academic life at Penn.  Other recent reading projects have focused on Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish,” Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography,” as well as on Thomas Eakins’s painting “The Gross Clinic.”

Additional information about the Penn Reading Project, a component of New Student Orientation, and its history can be found at