Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, by Catherine Coleman Flowers

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Clean water is a cause very dear to my heart; it was my late father’s field. As a result, I know quite a bit more than the average person about water treatment, and I expected that to come into play in this book. And it did–but not in the way I expected.

Waste is not a book about clean water. It’s the activism-focused memoir of an activist whose long career has led her to fight for clean water and safe sewage treatment for some of the poorest people in America. Her personal journey has brought her to many famous politicians, celebrities, and activists–and not always the ones you’d expect.

There are some terms–“perc test” comes to mind–that go sweeping past that I know, because of my family background, but I don’t expect a casually interested reader to know them. Despite that, this is very much not a technical book, so if you come in wanting to know why some soils are more prone to drainage difficulties than others, how different diseases of untreated sewage spread differently with environmental factors, how climate change will only hasten this spread–this is not the book to explain any of that to you. What it is: a book that gives one woman’s road map to awareness, activism, and real change.

It also is a book that does not flinch from the present day. There is an epilogue that was written after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and puts the rest of the book in that context. If you’re not ready for that on a given day, that’s not the day to read Waste.

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