As an experienced biologist, Midas Dekkers brings his knowledge to bear on a topic he finds fascinating.
Book cover image: The Story of Shit by Midas Dekkers. Published by text Publishing.
A biologist studies humans, animals and bacteria in order to understand how living organisms fulfill their functions. As an experienced biologist, Midas Dekkers brings his knowledge to bear on a topic he finds fascinating – shit. He is extraordinarily well informed on this subject and in The Story of Shit he shares his knowledge with the reader in a highly digestible and entertaining way.
A true expert can convey the complexities of their subject matter in ways that are easy for the layperson to understand. Dekkers does that particularly well and he does it with wry humour. While shit may be no laughing matter, his accounts frequently elicit much more than a chuckle. Talking about the urge to defecate he writes, ‘The urge is inexorable. I have friends who have quit smoking, friends who give alcohol a miss, and friends who have terminated our friendship. But I don’t have any friends who have stopped shitting.’
The Story of Shit is divided into ten chapters with each chapter focusing on a particular theme. The chapter headed 'Shit Central' explains the working of the digestive system, while the chapter titled ‘Brown Gold’ deals with shit as fertiliser, as valuable manure. It turns out that ambergris (valued at about $20,000 per kilo) could be called whale shit. Throughout the book, the reader learns some history of the subject as well as about the differences between humans and some other animals. Plants also get a mention. There is the occasional interesting digression such as an account of the discovery in 1973 of an Australian frog that vomits living tadpoles.
Slight diversions from the main theme such as these are part of the charm of the book. Dekkers makes a strong case for the use of manure over artificial fertilisers and bemoans the the fact that human shit in modern civilisations is wasted in the pursuit of hygiene. Plants, Dekkers points out, don’t shit but they need shit to flourish.
For the squeamish Dekkers reminds us that the air we breathe has in part already been inhaled and exhaled by you and by many other people and animals. If you want fresh air while you sleep you are better off closing the bedroom window, he opines, than leaving it open. The environmentally conscious are reminded that the gases humans fart greatly add to the methane that is polluting the atmosphere.
For those dog-lovers who walk their dogs and pick up their shit there is a wealth of information and speculation on why dogs do what they do and possibly what delights and information they get from the smells they enjoy during their walks. In the 'Water and Gas’ chapter, you learn Dekker’s favourite onomatopoeia – borborygmus – the official word for wind.
The final chapter of the book deals with sex and is appropriately titled ‘Fun and Games’. ‘A good-humoured arse, on the other hand, is a wellspring of entertainment. Thanks to all the nerve endings located there…’
The Story of Shit is entertaining, amusing, educational and revealing. It has a few apposite black-and-white illustrations, an extensive bibliography and a good index. Sitting on the toilet will never be the same.
The Story of Shit
By Midas Dekkers
Published by text Publishing
Text publication date: 29 January 2018
Themes: defecation, cultural histories, social histories.
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
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- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level