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Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

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The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once t The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once the epicenter of the voting rights struggle, today it's Ground Zero for a new movement that is Flowers's life's work. It's a fight to ensure human dignity through a right most Americans take for granted: basic sanitation. Too many people, especially the rural poor, lack an affordable means of disposing cleanly of the waste from their toilets, and, as a consequence, live amid filth. Flowers calls this America's dirty secret. In this powerful book she tells the story of systemic class, racial, and geographic prejudice that foster Third World conditions, not just in Alabama, but across America, in Appalachia, Central California, coastal Florida, Alaska, the urban Midwest, and on Native American reservations in the West. Flowers's book is the inspiring story of the evolution of an activist, from country girl to student civil rights organizer to environmental justice champion at Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative. It shows how sanitation is becoming too big a problem to ignore as climate change brings sewage to more backyards, and not only those of poor minorities.


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The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once t The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once the epicenter of the voting rights struggle, today it's Ground Zero for a new movement that is Flowers's life's work. It's a fight to ensure human dignity through a right most Americans take for granted: basic sanitation. Too many people, especially the rural poor, lack an affordable means of disposing cleanly of the waste from their toilets, and, as a consequence, live amid filth. Flowers calls this America's dirty secret. In this powerful book she tells the story of systemic class, racial, and geographic prejudice that foster Third World conditions, not just in Alabama, but across America, in Appalachia, Central California, coastal Florida, Alaska, the urban Midwest, and on Native American reservations in the West. Flowers's book is the inspiring story of the evolution of an activist, from country girl to student civil rights organizer to environmental justice champion at Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative. It shows how sanitation is becoming too big a problem to ignore as climate change brings sewage to more backyards, and not only those of poor minorities.

30 review for Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

  1. 4 out of 5

    Beata

    The dirty secret of which I was unaware, that is thousands of households with no proper sanitation across The South, was a total surprise to me, hence, this book opened my eyes to America I never knew existed in the 21st century. Ms Flowers is an activist who grew gradually to fight for the underpriviledged with regard to their basic needs and commodities, and for this she should be applauded. The downside was the writing quality and too much of the memoir as I wanted the first chapter to continu The dirty secret of which I was unaware, that is thousands of households with no proper sanitation across The South, was a total surprise to me, hence, this book opened my eyes to America I never knew existed in the 21st century. Ms Flowers is an activist who grew gradually to fight for the underpriviledged with regard to their basic needs and commodities, and for this she should be applauded. The downside was the writing quality and too much of the memoir as I wanted the first chapter to continue rather than read about the Author's way even though I appreciate all her efforts, so this part was a little of a disappointment to me. Having said that, I think the book is worth reading as it tackles an issue of the poverty and inability to shake it off. *Many thanks to Catherine Coleman Flowers, The New Press and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*

  2. 4 out of 5

    Danna

    I was disappointed in Waste. The initial chapter grabbed me: I couldn't wait to learn more about what Catherine Coleman Flowers describes as America's dirty secret--that there are thousands of citizens living without adequate septic systems. It was an eye-opener for me and I'm sure will be for many other readers (welcome to liberal privilege). While Waste does describe the abominable circumstances, it does so in a meandering way. Waste reads part memoir, part investigative journalism and I think I was disappointed in Waste. The initial chapter grabbed me: I couldn't wait to learn more about what Catherine Coleman Flowers describes as America's dirty secret--that there are thousands of citizens living without adequate septic systems. It was an eye-opener for me and I'm sure will be for many other readers (welcome to liberal privilege). While Waste does describe the abominable circumstances, it does so in a meandering way. Waste reads part memoir, part investigative journalism and I think both would have been better written as separate books. Catherine Coleman Flowers is an incredible activist. Learning her history, from childhood in rural Lowndes County, Alabama, through her education, and moves to different parts of the country is a fascinating journey. I have no doubt that Flowers is a force and a beacon, but the writing is simplistic and not always linear, which made for a lackluster reading experience. A lot of the book felt like a name-drop fest; you know that person who annoys you because they always want to tell you which famous person they just met? Flowers irritated me in this way. And I feel badly about it because it is so cool that she has interacted with so many politicians and activists, but the style grated. It all followed the same formula: I informed so-and-so that the issue existed and that Lowndes County needed help. They didn't believe me. Then, I brought them on a tour of Lowndes County, they saw how truly deplorable the conditions are, and I had their support. I have a hard time rating nonfiction like this poorly. I feel like I'm rating the person and they'll take it personally (and, honestly, it's possible they will), but I want to be very clear: the content here is essential reading; the delivery was poor. Everyone should know about Flowers and her unique history of activism from high school till current day. I'd like to read a biography of Flower, written by someone else. And I'd like to read about Flowers's wastewater work, either by someone else or in a long article/essay form. The combined narratives didn't work for me and the writing wasn't strong enough to pull it together. Thank you to the publisher for a NetGalley ARC.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tina Cardone

    This is an eye opening book on how the intersection of poverty and racism result in terrible living conditions in Alabama. This book is fascinating on multiple levels. First the details of the issue itself. I had no idea that septic systems failed depending on soil type, or that people were arrested for not installing septic systems! The cycle of poverty is so brutal. Second, the journey of an activist who has found so many allies yet still hasn't found a system level solution for her cause. It' This is an eye opening book on how the intersection of poverty and racism result in terrible living conditions in Alabama. This book is fascinating on multiple levels. First the details of the issue itself. I had no idea that septic systems failed depending on soil type, or that people were arrested for not installing septic systems! The cycle of poverty is so brutal. Second, the journey of an activist who has found so many allies yet still hasn't found a system level solution for her cause. It's never one hero, but a whole community. Join in and shed more light

  4. 5 out of 5

    Briayna Cuffie

    Disclaimer: I received this as an eARC free of charge from the publisher via NetGalley for a fair review. ——————————————————————————————- While the structure of this book could use some work, it was much more coherent the last handful of chapters. The history, details of livelihoods, and humility can’t be beat. While I was aware before that I “don’t know what I don’t know” about environmental justice, this book makes it abundantly clear that I’ve been barely scratching the surface. The author take Disclaimer: I received this as an eARC free of charge from the publisher via NetGalley for a fair review. ——————————————————————————————- While the structure of this book could use some work, it was much more coherent the last handful of chapters. The history, details of livelihoods, and humility can’t be beat. While I was aware before that I “don’t know what I don’t know” about environmental justice, this book makes it abundantly clear that I’ve been barely scratching the surface. The author takes what you think you know about poverty in the U.S., to a new depth. Her track record is long, but the fruitful (monetary) outcomes and investments are few – which is no surprise given the bureaucracy of the United States government. As a woman that has always lived in a suburban or urban area, the vastness of this issue is...breathtaking; especially when the only personal comparisons I could make from my life are anecdotal camping experiences, and extremely minor plumbing inconveniences that can often be resolved within days and without a professional plumber. I would love to hear this topic take center stage in a national debate. Acknowledgement of and commitment to eradicate plumbing and sewage issues would radically change how we discuss infrastructure in the political realm. Catherine has been able to meet so many powerful people over her decades of work. Honestly, I’m a little baffled that some of the wealthy folks haven’t outright paid for what needs to be done for people (surely there’s a way to write it off!). One could say this book adds to the case for reparations in multiple ways, including as a way for companies that have been enriched at these peoples’ expense, as recompense.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    My review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/bo... My review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/bo...

  6. 5 out of 5

    HR-ML

    The late civil rights icon & US Congressman John Lewis said "Get in good trouble, necessary trouble & help redeem the soul of America." Author, Ms Catherine Coleman Flowers, (hereafter CCF), got in plenty of 'good trouble.' CCF was born in rural Alabama, & her parents were active in the civil rights movement. Her mother was sterilized, w/o medical justification, after the birth of her 5th child! CCF & her parents knew she had a substandard HS education IE the principal hosted afternoon school da The late civil rights icon & US Congressman John Lewis said "Get in good trouble, necessary trouble & help redeem the soul of America." Author, Ms Catherine Coleman Flowers, (hereafter CCF), got in plenty of 'good trouble.' CCF was born in rural Alabama, & her parents were active in the civil rights movement. Her mother was sterilized, w/o medical justification, after the birth of her 5th child! CCF & her parents knew she had a substandard HS education IE the principal hosted afternoon school dance parties and tried to get fresh with select girls, the superintendent had low standards. CCF, her parents & others exerted pressure and these 2 resigned & were replaced by more capable administrators. CCF had many talents, and even recited her original poetry on local radio. She had excellent rapport with others, event- ually became a teacher and helped many students reach their dreams, beyond what some fellow teachers & the principal thought the students capable of achieving. CCF noticed her rural home town residents & neighbors had sewage back ups into their bathtubs or as pools of waste in their yards or nearby fields. This health hazard effected those with or w/o a waste treatment system in place. The Georgia red clay absorbed more water, the sewage became worse when it rained. Many lived in trailers. As the rural development director, she contacted scientists who tested the water + sewage & discovered evidence of hookworms. She involved the (clueless) State Bd. of Health and politicos on 'both sides of the aisle' to try to create a solution. She later learned via her travels that waste backups weren't exclusive to poor areas. And climate change (resulting in extreme weather ie heavy rain etc ) made it even worse. CCF used ingenuity to get the word out and worked toward real solutions. Some solutions were v. complex. We should all be grateful for this gutsy, tireless advocate!!!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Angela H.

    Thank you Netgalley for sharing this book in exchange of honest review. Just as the title, this book is about the activist's fight in raising awareness and finding solution for the neglected people in poverty that live in poor infrastructure. Most of us don't think about where the waste goes after we flush the toilet. However, there are people that do not have have a septic system and practically live with pooling wastewater. The author goes into more details in discussing why there is poor infr Thank you Netgalley for sharing this book in exchange of honest review. Just as the title, this book is about the activist's fight in raising awareness and finding solution for the neglected people in poverty that live in poor infrastructure. Most of us don't think about where the waste goes after we flush the toilet. However, there are people that do not have have a septic system and practically live with pooling wastewater. The author goes into more details in discussing why there is poor infrastructure in areas of low income, real stories that exposes living conditions, and consequences of living near wastewater. This book got me thinking of the little things should be grateful for.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Holly Dowell

    WASTE: ONE WOMAN’S FIGHT AGAINST AMERICA’S DIRTY SECRET shares the author’s story of activism from a young age, culminating in her current work as an environmental justice champion with a focus on rural Alabama. Catherine Coleman Flowers is a truly remarkable woman with a lifetime of stories and then some. Born to community leaders and activists in Lowndes County, Alabama, Flowers took on the injustices around her, beginning with educational inequalities. Over time and through engagement in a va WASTE: ONE WOMAN’S FIGHT AGAINST AMERICA’S DIRTY SECRET shares the author’s story of activism from a young age, culminating in her current work as an environmental justice champion with a focus on rural Alabama. Catherine Coleman Flowers is a truly remarkable woman with a lifetime of stories and then some. Born to community leaders and activists in Lowndes County, Alabama, Flowers took on the injustices around her, beginning with educational inequalities. Over time and through engagement in a variety of public actions, she built up her network and became an international voice for change on behalf of neglected rural communities. In the book, she talks about coordinating the study that exposed the existence of hookworm in Alabama. She uses her passion and connections (some seriously big names like Cory Booker, Rev. Barber, and Jane Fonda) to shed light on the devastating, persistent issue of wastewater injustice that she has now witnessed across the country. Many poor, rural homes do not have functioning septic systems and are prevented from installing them due to soil challenges and prohibitive cost. Flowers rightly calls this out as an environmental justice issue that entrenches poverty and will only worsen with climate change. While Flowers’s story was moving and her fight is exceptionally important, I have two criticisms of the book. Primarily, I think it was mis-marketed. The first half is dedicated to Mrs. Flowers’s background in activism and would be better named a memoir rather than an “exposure” as the subtitle suggests. In and of itself, the story of her life is worthy of telling! Second, I thought the writing was a bit lackluster and had a bit of an “and then and then and then” quality, verging on plodding. I would have enjoyed some variation and a bit more depth.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karyl

    When you think of wastewater and sewage contaminating people’s homes and yards, I can guarantee you’d think of a developing nation where the infrastructure doesn’t exist to remove people’s waste. Unfortunately, this is a real problem in the United States as well, and it’s been well-documented by Catherine Coleman Flowers. She takes us with her to her home area of Lowndes County, Alabama, what had been Ground Zero of the Civil Rights movement, and shows us homes that have no sewage removal, and i When you think of wastewater and sewage contaminating people’s homes and yards, I can guarantee you’d think of a developing nation where the infrastructure doesn’t exist to remove people’s waste. Unfortunately, this is a real problem in the United States as well, and it’s been well-documented by Catherine Coleman Flowers. She takes us with her to her home area of Lowndes County, Alabama, what had been Ground Zero of the Civil Rights movement, and shows us homes that have no sewage removal, and instead has feces and toilet paper littering the yards because there is no infrastructure to remove it, and installing a septic system is prohibitively expensive. As a result, diseases caused by human waste are occurring in these areas, diseases that have previously only occurred in tropical regions and developing nations. These things shouldn’t occur in the richest nation in the world. The above is what the book is supposed to be about. I’m impressed by Flowers’s determination to make a better life for these folks because they absolutely deserve it. It’s also amazing to learn how many shining stars of the Civil Rights movement she knew growing up, thanks to her own parents’ activism. However, the first half of the book is really an autobiography, describing her education and her choice to ultimately become a teacher, one that was highly respected (as she informs us time and again) by her students and the parents. The second half of the book covers her waste activism, but frequently it delves into a who’s who of famous people she has met and informed of this issue. The book often felt like a name-dropping fest, and it was disheartening because I wanted to learn about what was being done for these folks living in such awful conditions through no fault of their own. Instead, it was a book about how Flowers identified the problem, and then met with either famous people like Jane Fonda or Congressional committees to inform the government of the conditions that Americans had to endure all over the US. There were so many names, so many committees, so many trips hither and yon to determine the issue happens all over, not just in Alabama. I admire the drive and the fight of Flowers to bring awareness of this awful problem, but this book just lacks execution. And I’m left wondering what has even been done. She was able to provide a new home for one of her clients, but because installing a septic on the property is prohibitively expensive, roadblock after roadblock popped up to prevent her from moving into her new home. Before she could, she tragically passed away of COVID-19. But that’s the only person Flowers really discusses regarding doing something concrete to help these folks in such dire need. I had such high hopes for this book after hearing Flowers on Fresh Air, but unfortunately the book just didn’t deliver. However, it is important to know of Flowers’s activism. She is bringing awareness to a desperate need all over the nation. No one in the United States should live among raw sewage.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bria

    Waste by Catherine Coleman Flowers is a hard one for me to rate. It is one of those books that the content itself was meaningful and a must read, but the presentation and lack of clear focus made it far less enjoyable. Pros: Its utterly eye opening. Waste covers a crisis of lack of fresh running water and working sewers in Lowndes county Alabama. It depicts many unlivable situations that are simply the “normal” for those forgotten people of Lowndes County. This is an issue I had never heard of, Waste by Catherine Coleman Flowers is a hard one for me to rate. It is one of those books that the content itself was meaningful and a must read, but the presentation and lack of clear focus made it far less enjoyable. Pros: Its utterly eye opening. Waste covers a crisis of lack of fresh running water and working sewers in Lowndes county Alabama. It depicts many unlivable situations that are simply the “normal” for those forgotten people of Lowndes County. This is an issue I had never heard of, and was SHOCKED to read had been covered locally, nationally, AND internationally. National Geographic even went to the site to showcase it, The Obamas walked in a mark to support it, Yet most people still are unaware that children are literally playing in their waste in their own yard. Cons: Unfortunately Catherine Flowers isn’t as powerful of a writer as she is a woman. She has accomplished SO MUCH in the name of activism over her decades fighting the cause, but it simply didn’t covert well to paper. Many of the chapters seemed like lists upon lists of people she knows and who she’s talked to. Its very confusing to keep it all straight, when many of them don’t directly pertain to the book. Also, from chapters 2-6 there is literally no talk about the waste problem, or Lowndes County. Those many chapters are a personal memoir covering her time in high school, going to (many many many different) colleges, getting married, and then becoming a teacher. While it was interesting enough, I thought I was reading a book about a waste problem, not her personal story. Lastly, and my biggest deterrent was how repetitive it was. She mentioned that same study, with the same stats, over 3 times as if she didn’t cover it before. Then when it was summarized it was laid out as if it was a larger study than it was. You simply cannot test 54 people in a county, have 34% test positive for hookworm, and then paraphrase by saying “over 30% of residence tested positive” when the county is made up of 9,700+ residents as of 2019. While yes, it is correct that of who was tested it was 30%, its leading the reader and makes me feel duped. I’ll end by saying I think this information NEEDS to be published, I just feel like it would be better done by an investigative journalist along side Flowers.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    Sometimes this book feels like a plea for help, sometimes a history of civil rights, and sometimes the type of biography you tend to get around election season. And it fulfills all of those missions. The author is a civil rights activist from Lowndes County, along the famous Civil Rights March between Selma and Montgomery, and Black, and from a community where sewage in yards and backing up into houses is unfortunately common. Catherine Flowers took her racial justice background, which was exten Sometimes this book feels like a plea for help, sometimes a history of civil rights, and sometimes the type of biography you tend to get around election season. And it fulfills all of those missions. The author is a civil rights activist from Lowndes County, along the famous Civil Rights March between Selma and Montgomery, and Black, and from a community where sewage in yards and backing up into houses is unfortunately common. Catherine Flowers took her racial justice background, which was extensive, and rolled up her sleeves to take care of a different problem as dirty as racism - the unequal wastewater and sewage treatment for poor communities. The first half of the book is a background of her home town, and a biography. Then she gets to business talking about the problems, the efforts they've already made, and what needs to be done. Flowers detours through Centreville, Missouri and Allentown, California among other places that have the same waste & water problems with different climates and different causes. She decries the criminalization of impoverished families who can't afford septic systems, and the undue burden of wastewater fees for people who are not getting the services that should go with it. She talks of the partnerships she made across the aisle and the people who've been helping her cause. Waste is an important lesson in inequality and a humbling picture of an America that fails to provide basic sanitation and clean water for our minority communities, rural communities and those who don't have the political power to get those strings pulled. I'm glad to know of the issues, and am reminded to pay attention to the problems here in California and support equitable and safe utilities for all. Read through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Glen Cowan

    The conceptualization of this book needed more work. I’ve seen reviews on here that it was too self promoting and resorted to too much name dropping. My personal feeling is that Coleman-Flowers was trying to put names to faces, thus allowing the reader to associate better with the story she was trying to tell. Besides stories of those like Pam Rush (whose passing being revealed at the end of the book was genuinely sad), a lot of names were those involved in the NGO industry or politics. This lea The conceptualization of this book needed more work. I’ve seen reviews on here that it was too self promoting and resorted to too much name dropping. My personal feeling is that Coleman-Flowers was trying to put names to faces, thus allowing the reader to associate better with the story she was trying to tell. Besides stories of those like Pam Rush (whose passing being revealed at the end of the book was genuinely sad), a lot of names were those involved in the NGO industry or politics. This leaves it open to the charges listed in other reviews. Furthermore, I’m not overly sure what the end goal of the book was. Was it an autobiography? Was it research? Was it an expose? It tried to be too many things when a more focused take on waste water management in rural communities would have been more engaging. My hunch is that this might have been rushed judging by its relatively short length. While I don’t wish to be a pedant, Bill Bradley never ran as Al Gore’s Vice President. He ran against him in the 2000 Democratic primaries. Gore’s running mate was holy Joe Lieberman (I’m sure to Gore’s eternal regret). That might be nitpicking, but that’s quite the slip up (hence my suspicion this was rushed as an error like that should never have gotten past proofreaders). In the end, it comes across as what I’d term as ‘peak liberal’. Plenty of awareness raising, lots of faith placed in individuals in high places rather than on collective solutions and community solidarity, and few concrete suggestions as to how we can fix the problem. That’s a real shame as a detailed book on the connection between rural poverty in the US, shortfalls in public sanitation and the emergence of tropical diseases had potential to have legs.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tery

    While I don't want to diminish the work that Catherine Coleman Flowers has done for much of her life, it was a bit difficult to get through this book. The first chapter grabs the reader's attention immediately, however, then the book takes a turn and transforms into an autobiography of Flowers. Was her life interesting? Absolutely. The woman was/is a sponge for knowledge; be it learning about amnesia to help her husband, wastewater treatment septic systems, to soil conditions. She is also a forc While I don't want to diminish the work that Catherine Coleman Flowers has done for much of her life, it was a bit difficult to get through this book. The first chapter grabs the reader's attention immediately, however, then the book takes a turn and transforms into an autobiography of Flowers. Was her life interesting? Absolutely. The woman was/is a sponge for knowledge; be it learning about amnesia to help her husband, wastewater treatment septic systems, to soil conditions. She is also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to her activism and trying to right the wrongs that are being perpetrated on the poor in rural Alabama. The shocking story of people living in such squalor, surrounded by their own waste or the waste of their neighbors, the discovery that 1 in 3 people of Lowndes County Alabama tested positive for hookworm, and that these same people were being thrown in jail because they couldn't afford proper septic systems is one hell of a shocking story. Unfortunately, too much of the book focuses on Flowers' life and her achievements, which I feel horrible saying, but the focus of the book got lost. Regardless, it's an eye opening, shocking look at how this country turns a blind eye on the poorest of its citizens.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    This is hard for me to rate, as the topic is incredibly important, the author impressively credentialed and inspiring, and the message needs to be shouted from the podiums of every auditorium in the U.S. Flowers opens the reader's eyes to the horrific instances of untreated waste in rural parts of our country, to the Third World abhorrent conditions of waste and toilet paper in the backyards that we ignore and minimize. But the book itself is a huge disappointment. After a brief initial mention This is hard for me to rate, as the topic is incredibly important, the author impressively credentialed and inspiring, and the message needs to be shouted from the podiums of every auditorium in the U.S. Flowers opens the reader's eyes to the horrific instances of untreated waste in rural parts of our country, to the Third World abhorrent conditions of waste and toilet paper in the backyards that we ignore and minimize. But the book itself is a huge disappointment. After a brief initial mention of the wastewater issue, Flowers switches to a biographical account of her life that is written in a very factual, dry, journalistic style. There is some repetition, some unanswered sections (whatever happened to her amnesiac husband?), and none of the storytelling that makes nonfiction engaging. Finally, when she gets into the "Waste" part of the book in the second half, she continues in the same style, drily recounting names and dates and committee names, briefly explaining the lives of the people trapped in this "wasteland," but never telling us enough to bring them to life. This story could have been great and should be a movie...but the script needs to be written by someone who knows how to craft a story and keep the reader or viewer enthralled.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    This is an eye-opening book that made me aware of the “dirty little secret” of what is happening in poor rural communities, particularly those populated by people of color, living with open air pools of raw sewage in their yards, rivaling conditions in third world countries. Due to a denial of waste water infrastructure being extended even half-mile from town center, impoverished Black residents are forced to invest in private septic systems (that can cost upwards of $30,000) and often fail due This is an eye-opening book that made me aware of the “dirty little secret” of what is happening in poor rural communities, particularly those populated by people of color, living with open air pools of raw sewage in their yards, rivaling conditions in third world countries. Due to a denial of waste water infrastructure being extended even half-mile from town center, impoverished Black residents are forced to invest in private septic systems (that can cost upwards of $30,000) and often fail due to inhospitable soil and a high water table, a problem made worse by climate change. In the ultimate injustice, people can be arrested and prosecuted for not installing a functional sewage system. I took one star away from this important book because the author repeatedly became self-congratulatory about standing ovations she received for her speeches and the important people who sought her out, but I can understand that she must be pinching herself that a poor kid from Lowndes County, Alabama has successfully brought attention to conditions worse than we can imagine hiding in plain sight amid the tremendous wealth in our country.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anna Smith

    I have so much gratitude for Flowers eloquently crafting this book and that I know get to have it in my life. As an undergrad student, this is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. Flowers details inequalities in ways I had never known of or considered. I see some reviews not fond of the narrative form this book takes, but I disagree with them and would offer the importance of the form. I’m reading this for a book club with a number of other university students, all of us pas I have so much gratitude for Flowers eloquently crafting this book and that I know get to have it in my life. As an undergrad student, this is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. Flowers details inequalities in ways I had never known of or considered. I see some reviews not fond of the narrative form this book takes, but I disagree with them and would offer the importance of the form. I’m reading this for a book club with a number of other university students, all of us passionate about social justice. This book is so influential in sharing what activism looks like, through and through. I know I want to grow up to be Catherine Flowers, and I can’t help but think about all the other young people that will get to read or hear her story and those of everyone she’s rubbing elbows with. Thank you Catherine Flowers for you, your voice, and using in ways I had never imagined.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Naomi Krokowski

    Amazing memoir of eco activist Catherine Coleman Flowers. Her lifelong advocacy for civil rights is truly inspiring. Returning to impoverished Lowndes County, Alabama after college and a teaching career, Flowers learns of fellow residents being fined and jailed for failure to install and or repair septic systems for their homes. She learns that parasitic diseases thought eradicated generations ago are fairly common due to raw sewage issues the poor cannot afford to remedy. Local governments fail Amazing memoir of eco activist Catherine Coleman Flowers. Her lifelong advocacy for civil rights is truly inspiring. Returning to impoverished Lowndes County, Alabama after college and a teaching career, Flowers learns of fellow residents being fined and jailed for failure to install and or repair septic systems for their homes. She learns that parasitic diseases thought eradicated generations ago are fairly common due to raw sewage issues the poor cannot afford to remedy. Local governments fail to provide working infrastructure for sanitation. While it’s a third world concern that does not belong in the United States, Flowers learns it is hardly confined to her home state. These stories are heartbreaking but we must know them. Climate change is making sanitation challenges worse and we cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    This is an important book on activism, racism, environmental and racial and class injustice, and intersections of all these. Perhaps most interesting to me - in addition to the shocking facts about lack of wastewater treatment access in multiple poor communities in our country- is the capacity Ms. Flowers has to connect with people, including deeply conservative Republicans and evangelicals to work on these issues. She doesn’t ever lose sight of the systemic and structural oppression at the root This is an important book on activism, racism, environmental and racial and class injustice, and intersections of all these. Perhaps most interesting to me - in addition to the shocking facts about lack of wastewater treatment access in multiple poor communities in our country- is the capacity Ms. Flowers has to connect with people, including deeply conservative Republicans and evangelicals to work on these issues. She doesn’t ever lose sight of the systemic and structural oppression at the root of these problems but remarkably she is able to use her understanding and faith to connect across all kinds of lines without losing her profound perspective. Both radical and pragmatic, this is a woman who knows the deep historical connections to getting things done now. Her policy advice should be sought at the highest levels of government.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anita

    This book is far more than a tell-all tale about raw sewage and hookworm pooling outside - and sometimes inside - poor people's homes in the US. It's also a firsthand account of what it takes to build an environmental justice movement. Flowers's no-nonsense tone and "name-dropping" seems to disappoint some readers, but I found both instructive to get to the heart of structural racism. As a community activist, Flowers has used relationships, connections, and research (not to mention intellegence a This book is far more than a tell-all tale about raw sewage and hookworm pooling outside - and sometimes inside - poor people's homes in the US. It's also a firsthand account of what it takes to build an environmental justice movement. Flowers's no-nonsense tone and "name-dropping" seems to disappoint some readers, but I found both instructive to get to the heart of structural racism. As a community activist, Flowers has used relationships, connections, and research (not to mention intellegence and moral reckoning) to bring attention to her cause. Sewage isn't sexy, especially not in poor America. Getting federal funding attention for this seemingly rural issue (that is now plaguing urban areas like Ft Lauderdale and Queens, NY) takes activism which is far more effective when everyone - media, grassroots organizations, activists, politicians, and celebrities - gives a damn.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Hollis

    This book tells a story of racial discrimination, environmental racism, poverty, and the part of life in America that is not talked about - the poverty of and lack of attention to our rural areas. I saw similar things in my own work a couple of years ago, and this just adds to my concern with our decisions to fund projects focused on the “bugged population impacts” rather than making sure all Americans have equal access to health and safety and basic human needs. Read this book to better underst This book tells a story of racial discrimination, environmental racism, poverty, and the part of life in America that is not talked about - the poverty of and lack of attention to our rural areas. I saw similar things in my own work a couple of years ago, and this just adds to my concern with our decisions to fund projects focused on the “bugged population impacts” rather than making sure all Americans have equal access to health and safety and basic human needs. Read this book to better understand what is happening in areas not shown on the news and that we are conveniently able to ignore in our day to day lives.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Pepper Ex-Fan

    So this is more of a memoir than a history book. I didn't really like the first half, which is about her activism during childhood and young adulthood, because it felt sanitized. (The author was a fan of the Black Panther, which some white liberal mentor steered her away from because they were "violent." The author could've noted in hindsight that it was hogwash the way white people tried to discredit the party, but she seemed to really embrace the non-violence hype from then on. There was also So this is more of a memoir than a history book. I didn't really like the first half, which is about her activism during childhood and young adulthood, because it felt sanitized. (The author was a fan of the Black Panther, which some white liberal mentor steered her away from because they were "violent." The author could've noted in hindsight that it was hogwash the way white people tried to discredit the party, but she seemed to really embrace the non-violence hype from then on. There was also a lot of emphasis on hard work, which I also thought was unnecessary and further contributed to the good vs bad Black people dichotomy. ALTHOUGH, I say this as someone who isn't Black and never had to prove my worth.) The second half felt more honest (and on topic) and I appreciated that she wasn't afraid to criticize Elizabeth Warren, but as far as memoir goes it was still missing vulnerability. I think the vision she shared toward the end was the main reason she wanted to write the book, but it wasn't long enough and she had to add a whole bunch of stuff to help get a book out--hence the first half of the book. All in all, a quick read. I really think it would've been more interesting if she'd just paused and included more reflections instead of laying out one event after another that led her to her current life as an activist.

  22. 4 out of 5

    M Clausen

    I had no idea that such horrid conditions existed in the southern United States. The author clearly did her research and is passionate about this injustice. Her writing partly reflects her life as well as the lack of sanitation for so many people. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes it did not. I look forward to hearing more from this author.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Bowman

    A wonderful and inspiring story of Catherine Flowers' journey to address wastewater challenges in rural Alabama - and across the country. She does a wonderful job making a clear connection between racial justice and environmental health, and hopefully inspires others to demand access to effective wastewater treatment for all. A wonderful and inspiring story of Catherine Flowers' journey to address wastewater challenges in rural Alabama - and across the country. She does a wonderful job making a clear connection between racial justice and environmental health, and hopefully inspires others to demand access to effective wastewater treatment for all.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Azoulay

    I loved this book! Hearing Catherine’s first hand account of her life fighting for civil rights and applying it to an environmental topic most people don’t even realize exists was FASCINATING! Environmental justice warriors like Catherine have been fighting this fight for so long. I’m glad to see she is finally getting the credit that she is due!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Maggie MacDonald

    In part, I would blame myself for not liking this book as I didn’t realize it was a memoir, as opposed to a book exploring the history and lack of attention to the not-so-sexy subject of rural waste infrastructure which is what I thought it was

  26. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    This felt like such a slog. The first chapter was great and then I felt like I was walking through mud. I didn’t realize it was an activist memoir when I started it, so I wasn’t really prepared for the direction it went but beyond that, I was just bored.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Engrossing "must read" book about the lack of wastewater treatment access in poor rural America and the devastation it brings. I also love the way the author weaves in her own story as an environmental justice advocate. Engrossing "must read" book about the lack of wastewater treatment access in poor rural America and the devastation it brings. I also love the way the author weaves in her own story as an environmental justice advocate.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Valentine Wheeler

    I wanted to love this book, but I think it suffered from a marketing issue. This wasn’t a book about the waste issue until about 2/3 of the way thru- it was a memoir and list of meetings. The epilogue was the strongest part, and I wanted a whole book of the last third.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Felice Kelly

    Obviously an important issue, and Coleman Flowers has done incredible work bringing it to light, but this book is a disservice. It's kind of boring and self-promoting, with an insane amount of name-dropping and little in the way of in-depth stories about the people on the front lines. Obviously an important issue, and Coleman Flowers has done incredible work bringing it to light, but this book is a disservice. It's kind of boring and self-promoting, with an insane amount of name-dropping and little in the way of in-depth stories about the people on the front lines.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Krysti Shallenberger

    As someone who grew up in rural Alabama, this hit home hard. Highly recommend to understand the rural/urban divide, how marginalized rural communities continue to face systems against them and how the South is the face of the greatest inequalities and the superhuman efforts to address them.

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