About Penn Reading Project

For the 2011 Penn Reading Project book, please click here.

The Provost, the Council of Undergraduate Deans, and the Office of College Houses and Academic Services are pleased to announce that Rose George's The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters will be the text for the 2010-11 Penn Reading Project (PRP). On the afternoon of Sunday, September 5, 2010, groups of first-year students and faculty leaders will join together to discuss the book as part of New Student Orientation for the Class of 2014.

In The Big Necessity, Ms. George, a Penn alumna (Master of Arts in Political Science, 1994) addresses one of our few remaining taboos - human waste disposal - in many contexts. The book is about differing cultural practices, but perhaps more importantly, it addresses the global health problem of sanitation and the fundamental need to provide human beings with functioning and sanitary toilets. As George points out, the statistics are sobering. Disease spread by bodily waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death. Questions of environmental sustainability are also prominent in The Big Necessity -- toilets are responsible for the single largest home use of water in the United States. The book combines all these issues with a sense of urgency, as well as humor. As Time magazine put it, The Big Necessity is "written with tact, sensitivity, and the right amount of style."

This year's PRP book is the kick-off for Penn's Year of Water, a project that involves multidisciplinary inquiry across Penn's twelve schools and many resource centers. Among the participating entities are the Penn Museum, the Earth and Environmental Science Department, Civic House, and many other departments and programs; local organizations including the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative will also be featured. Year of Water programs will include lectures and symposia with celebrated scholars, conferences, site visits, and more.

PRP, now entering its twentieth year, was created as an introduction for incoming freshmen to academic life at Penn. Past Penn Reading Projects have included Shubin's Your Inner Fish, Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Lessig's Free Culture, Franklin's Autobiography, Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Kafka's Metamorphosis, Kingston's The Woman Warrior, Shelley's Frankenstein, and Stoppard's Arcadia - as well as Eakins' painting, The Gross Clinic. Information about the Penn Reading Project and its history can be found here.