"What Shat That?" Matt Pagett

Pros: Fascinating and hilarious factoids
Cons: Gross!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Ten Speed Press

I admit, I review a bit of everything when it comes to books: fiction, cookbooks, business, how-to… but I’ll probably never know what possessed one of my contacts at 10 Speed to send me Matt Pagett’s What Shat That? A Pocket Guide to Poop Identity. I pulled it out and my first thought, after “Gross!” was, “why on earth would I want to read that?” My second was, “wow, I never imagined I’d see the phrase ‘plankton turds’ in a press release.” And, okay, that last bit caught my curiosity. I opened up the book to take a look, and once I’d read a page I couldn’t put it down.

If you’ve ever wanted to be able to identify anything from a rabbit to a fox to a bear or a koala by its dung, well, this is the book for you. A two-page spread on each animal includes loving descriptions of each animal’s fecal habits, as well as photos or drawings of turds both large and small. The book is just small enough to fit into a large pocket or a small bag, making it easy to take along as subway reading (in case you relish those weird looks from strangers) or to help you identify those piles of crap you find while hiking.

The contents of black-bear dung has been known to include tin cans, pizza boxes, watches, motorbike chains, and hubcaps.

You’ll learn a huge amount about how various animals’ feces are used to enable scientists to better track and analyze their movements, habits, and health. The book includes a wide array of factoids regarding how dung is used: as fertilizer, tourist souvenirs, a water purifier(!), a necessary part of complex ecosystems, a source of food or shelter for some critters, and more.

The book has a humorous, irreverent tone, invoking every possible name for poo that you could possibly think of and then some.

Does a bear shit in the woods? Hikers certainly do if they catch sight of one unexpectedly.

I loved this book equally for its tone and for the fascinating bits of information scattered throughout—some hilarious, some poignant, some quite gross. You’ll learn how the CIA used tiger poop during the Vietnam War, why ants farm and protect aphids for their honeydew-dung, and how ancient civilizations used various types of scat in medicinal remedies. Not to mention the wealth of information scientists have gathered about animals thanks to their dung, either directly or indirectly.


Okay, so it’s a weird concept for a book and I never would have imagined picking it up and enjoying it, yet I did. I think this would make a great gag gift for an animal lover who enjoys the bizarre and loves collecting fascinating tidbits of lore and information.

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9 comments on “"What Shat That?" Matt Pagett
  1. booklogged says:

    And I never expected to read a review on a book about dung! It does make one laugh. Having been a biology teacher I know that poop can teach you a lot, but who knew there was an interesting, witty, funny and informative book that would be fun for the average person to read. Whoops! I didn’t mean you were average. I just meant anyone who was a died in the wool biologist.

  2. booklogged says:

    BTW, that’s quite the title!

  3. heather says:

    booklogged: I was really surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It was fun and fascinating. Probably great for kids if they’re old enough that you don’t mind them learning a couple of words that some might see as naughty. 🙂

  4. Court says:

    Oh my. Haha, I’m tempted to go out to the bookstore once it comes out just to take a look at this book. The parts you quoted are extremely humerous.

  5. Eva says:

    Oh my gosh. I feel so dumb! I checked out your blog when you first started commenting on mine, and somehow I missed the “See rest of entry” links. So, I thought that all of your reviews were three lines long, which didn’t leave me much to comment on. lol Now I’m going to have to go exploring!

  6. heather says:

    Court: I definitely think it’s worth a read. It doesn’t take long to go through, and it’s just hysterical!

    Eva: lol, don’t feel dumb; I’ve done that too a few times. I split my reviews simply because some of them are kind of long, and it makes the front page easier to browse through. I hope you enjoy your look around!

  7. Lotus Reads says:

    Heather, I love the format you use for your reviews!

    A 101 on dung, wow, that’s a first! lol Got to give the author full marks for using a very creative concept.

    Love your review and you’ve included some really interesting tidbits which made for enjoyable reading!

  8. dew says:

    Ha ha, I’ve been convinced for years that I’m the only person I know who not only can identify shit (and tracks) in the woods, but that I’m also the only one who notices these things. On hikes, I’m thinking, ooh, rabbits here, maybe we’ll see a little hopping bunny, and my friend is just stepping obliviously in the poop. I’ve also learned that if you see bear tracks when hiking with an excitable junior member of the family, you should not point them out.

  9. heather says:

    Lotus Reads: Thank you! Yeah, it’s a very creative and entertaining book, and I was amazed at how much I learned. I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

    dew: lol! Yeah, I imagine not everyone handles bear tracks so well. 😉

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