Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City

Robin Nagle. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-29929-3
Inspired by a graduate school project and a seminar she taught on “Garbage in Gotham,” Nagle, NYU professor and the current and first ever anthropologist-in-residence at New York City’s Department of Sanitation, examines why the garbage men and women are the most important people on the payroll. The city’s 8.2 million residents are well-served by a relatively small army: a mere 9,216 workers are responsible for carting off the 12,000 tons of garbage and recyclables produced each day, in addition to sweeping 6,000 miles of streets multiple times a week—the author contends that the city is cleaner than it’s ever been. Nagle worked as a garbage woman to better understand her subject, and that experience, combined with years of research, results in an intimate look at the mostly male work force as they risk injury and endure insult while doing the city’s dirty work. She also provides a fascinating capsule history of the department and the city’s 400-year relationship with waste. Citing the mind-bogglingly expansive Fresh Kills landfill as evidence of humanity’s remarkable ability to consume “geological” quantities of stuff, Nagle asks, “Who keeps us safe from ourselves?” Her investigation makes the answer abundantly clear. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 03/19/2013
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FORMATS
Paperback - 280 pages - 978-0-374-53427-1
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-4668-3673-0
MP3 CD - 978-1-4805-6905-8
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