Sunday, June 07, 2009

Waste and Want: a social history of trash

by Susan Strasser

What... an amazing book. (That's my Chelsea Handler impression, which I realize doesn't work so well in print. How about a Chandler Bing: could this book be any better?)

Seriously, though, this book is great. I suspect there's a fair amount of cross-over from her other two books, which are on somewhat related topics. There's even a bit of repetitiveness from chapter to chapter in this book, but somehow it doesn't detract from the reading experience, probably because the level of detail allows the author to present information that is superficially the same in a different light in other chapters. The sharp focus also justifies the book's occidental bias (pretty much exclusively U.S., in fact, with some comparisons to Europe), and even explains why this history begins in the 1800s and starts to peter out post WWII — as much as it requires written records of what people did with their garbage, this type of sociology requires a sufficient distance and objectivity, so more recent cultural trends can only be painted in broad strokes.

So much fascinating info is on display here, I hardly know where to begin... with a focus on individuals' and society's (including business and government) relationship to the objects they choose to save, repair, reuse, recycle, discard, etc., the book covers everything from kitchen "waste" and leftovers to clothing and paper, metal and rubber to bones and bodily functions, always explaining how historical events, socio-economic changes, and industrial innovations have altered the trash-scape.

Highly recommended to nonfiction lovers and people into extreme D.I.Y. (That is, people who make their own clothes out of cut-up old clothes or build furniture from found wood and scraps, as opposed to people who can put together Ikea stuff or make things according to published instructions.)

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