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

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


America's largest city generates garbage in torrents—11,000 tons from households each day on average. But New Yorkers don't give it much attention. They leave their trash on the curb or drop it in a litter basket, and promptly forget about it. And why not? On a schedule so regular you could almost set your watch by it, someone always comes to take it away.

But who, exactly, is that someone? And why is he—or she—so unknown?

In Picking Up, the anthropologist Robin Nagle introduces us to the men and women of New York City's Department of Sanitation and makes clear why this small army of uniformed workers is the most important labor force on the streets. Seeking to understand every aspect of the Department's mission, Nagle accompanied crews on their routes, questioned supervisors and commissioners, and listened to story after story about blizzards, hazardous wastes, and the insults of everyday New Yorkers. But the more time she spent with the DSNY, the more Nagle realized that observing wasn't quite enough—so she joined the force herself. Driving the hulking trucks, she obtained an insider's perspective on the complex kinships, arcane rules, and obscure lingo unique to the realm of sanitation workers.

Nagle chronicles New York City's four-hundred-year struggle with trash, and traces the city's waste-management efforts from a time when filth overwhelmed the streets to the far more rigorous practices of today, when the Big Apple is as clean as it's ever been.

Throughout, Nagle reveals the many unexpected ways in which sanitation workers stand between our seemingly well-ordered lives and the sea of refuse that would otherwise overwhelm us. In the process, she changes the way we understand cities—and ourselves within them.

From Publishers Weekly

Dec 24, 2012 – 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.
Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City
View in iTunes
  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Sociology
  • Published: Mar 19, 2013
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Seller: Macmillan
  • Print Length: 304 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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