book reviews

Reposted review of the book What Shat That?

Here’s another as/is reposted Epinions review. This one was composed back in October 2011, when I was going through a “shit” phase. Enjoy!

To continue with my recent poo fetish, today’s book review is about Matt Pagett’s 2007 book, What Shat That? A Pocket Guide to Poop Identity.  I know the Epinions review listing says the book is called Who Shat That?, but the book is, in fact, entitled What Shat That?.  My apologies to book lead dramastef.  The SAP mistake was mine.

So, with that cleared up, let me ask you this.  While taking a walk in nature, have you ever come across a pile of dung that you cannot identify?  Have you ever examined the pile and wondered what kind of creature created it?  Having lived out in the country for the past few years, I sure have had this experience on more than one occasion.  Most of the time, the strange piles of excrement I encounter are made by deer or fox or perhaps a wandering neighborhood dog.  But every once in awhile, I find a mysterious mound of feces that stumps me.  What Shat That? is basically a field guide for nature lovers and backyard biologists who also need help identifying mysterious mounds of poo.

A sign that is often ignored.

After an informative introduction that explains how and why all creatures poop and why poop is usually brown, Pagett gets into his showcase of animal sh!t.  This book contains 50 entries for animals ranging from aphids to wombats.  Each entry offers a picture of the part of the world where the creature is typically found, a not very detailed illustration of the animal, and a short article filled with interesting tidbits about the animal and its particular brand of crap.  This book also has a rating system for each animal profiled called “mess factor”.  The mess factor is displayed in a little box with ratings ranging from one to five dung piles.  A mess factor of one denotes that the poo is practically clean, while a mess factor of five indicates a big, stinky, nasty pile.  And just so you’ll have a clear visual, there’s also either a photo or a detailed illustration of a typical dung specimen for each entry. 

What I like about this book    

I have a feeling this book would be a great choice for young people who are interested in zoology or biology.  It’s written in a spirit of fun.  While Pagett mostly keeps his tone professional, he injects some humor and wit in his writing which makes the book fun to read.  And he includes some interesting trivial facts that are engaging and educational.  This book is slim and light enough that it can be easily stowed in a small backpack, making it very handy for hiking.

I also think this book might make a great accompaniment for a family or class nature walk.  As a teenager, I remember my biology teacher taking us out to walk in the woods and look for leaves, insects, and fungi.  In the same spirit of discovery, wouldn’t it be fun to go on a sh!t walk?  I can just hear it now.  “Look dad!  I found a pile of deer scat!”  What a precious family bonding moment that would make!

What I don’t like about this book

I don’t think this book is quite broad enough to be useful for the average person.  Sure, I can sit at home and read the entry about what yak poop looks like, but what are the odds that I’ll actually run into a yak?  Likewise, I can read about aardvark crap, but aardvarks aren’t exactly native to North Carolina or anywhere else in the United States.  At the same time, Pagett didn’t include any entries about animals a lot of people might actually run into, like squirrels, chipmunks, or even skunks. 

Now, I’m not saying I don’t like that Pagett wrote about more exotic creatures.  The entries about animals I might not see are fascinating.  But this book is called What Shat That?, and that makes me think that it was, at least at some point, intended to be an actual field guide.  How can it be a field guide if it doesn’t include any information about common creatures whose sh!t I might actually encounter?

Also, I am a little surprised that Pagett didn’t include more actual photographs, rather than illustrations.  There are some photos of poop, but quite a few entries include just illustrations.  The illustrations are not as useful for actual poop identification as the photos are because the illustrations just aren’t as “true to life” in appearance.  Pagett also doesn’t include actual photos of the animals profiled in the book.  So if you don’t know what a gecko looks like, you have to rely on a rather vague looking illustration instead of a color photo.


Like Up Sh!t Creek, the book I reviewed yesterday, What Shat That? was put out by Ten Speed Press.  I think the concept is good.  To Pagett’s credit, he does include samples from a range of creatures to include mammals, birds, lizards, and fish.

I think Matt Pagett had a clever idea that could have really caught on and maybe even spawned a franchise.  But overall, I think this book is not as well-executed as it could be.  For that reason, I give it three stars.

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