The Guts of the Matter is a study of our oldest ecological problem: the transmission of infectious intestinal disease from human waste. Spanning the early hominin era to the present, this book explores the evolution of human waste disposal practices, the use of faeces and urine as fertilizer, and the changing patterns of transmission of intestinal pathogens and parasites. Chapters trace the spread of viral, bacterial, and helminthic infections through the early processes of globalization and track the uneven successes of the sanitation revolution in recent centuries. The book also provides an overview of the cultural practices that influence the transmission of infectious intestinal disease and the impacts of biomedical advances such as oral rehydration therapy and vaccination. Webb's impressive breadth and meticulous research is invaluable for students of public health, environmental history, global history, and medicine.
1. Pathogens and parasites
2. Early change
3. Diffusion and amplification
5. Adoptions and adaptations
6. The struggle against hookworm disease
7. An era of optimism
8. Global health and infectious intestinal disease
James L. A. Webb, Jr. is a Professor of History at Colby College, Maine. His recent books include The Long Struggle Against Malaria in Tropical Africa (Cambridge, 2014) and Global Health in Africa (2013).
"James Webb's The Guts of the Matter delves deep into how and where people have relieved themselves, how this has been related to one group of parasitic diseases and how important this has been – and still is – to developments around the world. It changes readers' outlook on toilets and life."
– Iris Borowy, Shanghai University
"This global history illuminates large bio-social patterns key to the development of all human societies. The vicissitudes of human intestinal diseases – that persistently caused high mortality and sickness – are linked to human waste management and mismanagement, diverse hygienic practices, safe and unsafe water systems, and access to medical treatment (such as hookworm's drugs, poliovirus vaccines and oral rehydration therapy for cholera). Developments in industrialized and colonial and postcolonial societies are masterfully compared. A sound contribution beyond the field of history."
– Marcos Cueto, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil