Cuteness Kills

The book I discuss here is called Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet (2021) by Chelsea Wald. It’s publisher is an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It deals with a very important and serious subject, which is how we in the United States and elsewhere, dispose of our human waste and what a disaster that is in so many ways.


The way we dispose of human waste amounts to this: Imagine that you struck oil in your back yard and arranged a pipeline to take it away and dump it into the ocean to get rid of it. Not only would you be squandering a fortune in energy resources but you’d be polluting the environment in a near-criminal fashion. That’s what her book is about.


To make the argument that it is ill-advised to have a toilet of the common flushing kind in our homes and a sewer system of the common kind (draining into waterways) under the ground is a difficult task. It might be compared with arguing that fire is a passing fad. So if you’re to succeed, it is of the utmost importance to be convincing and to back up everything you say with solid research.


Somehow between Chelsea’s own work as an author and Simon & Schuster’s editing as her publisher, a collective decision was made (perhaps unconsciously) to treat the subject as cute and ripe for the presentation of puns, double-entendres, slapstick, tongue-in-cheek jokes, and other tom foolery that would make people more comfortable with a subject that might make them uncomfortable.


Their decision was a very bad one and in effect nullified all the good that could have been done with Chelsea’s excellent research. And she is an otherwise competent researcher, journalist, and science writer. She is actually very impressive, and I can only assume that she came under the spell of an evil person from the Sales Department at S&S. (See:


Because the book is so jammed full of these cuteness mortal sins, I can’t list them all here. But the table of contents does the job nicely of delivering the message that cuteness can kill a well-intentioned work. A few sample chapter titles:


Taking the Piss

Eating Shit

Clogged Arteries

Giving a Crap

Potty Talk

Epilogue: It Hits the Fan


Among section titles in the not-very-long book we find

Gone to Pot

Redesigning from the Bottom Up

It Takes Guts

The Bottom Line

Game of Thrones

Cutting the Crap


And that’s to say nothing of the subheads to the chapter titles, such as “Let’s analyze the shit out of this.” Even the word “urgent” in the subtitle of the book is meant to echo common cliches about the subject.


To take a terrible decision in the design of our society (toilets, sewers)–not to mention a topic that is so difficult to get across to people–and to turn it into a comedy routine (and a bad one) is a very sad squandering of extremely valuable information that Chelsea Wald has gone to the trouble of finding and interpreting.