Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.What can underground pipes tell us about human eating habits and the spread or containment of disease, such as COVID-19? Why are sewers spitting out plastic and trash into waterways around the world? How are clogs getting gnarlier and more numerous? Jessica Leigh Hester leads readers through the past, present, and future of the system humans have created to deal with our own waste and argues that sewers can be seen as a mirror to the world above at a time when our behaviors are drastically reshaping the environment for the worse.
Sifting through the muck offers a fresh way to approach questions about urbanization, public health, infrastructure, ecology, sustainability, and consumerism- and what we value. Without understanding sewers, any attempt to steward the future is incomplete. Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.
Jessica Leigh Hester is a science journalist. She has worked as a senior editor and staff writer at Atlas Obscura and an editor at CityLab, where she covered the environment and urban infrastructure. Her work has also appeared in the The Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Times, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City and Baltimore, where she is also a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University and always trawling for stories about ecology and trash