Book review: Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by Robin Nagle

This is a wonderfully written book-chockful of facts and empathy. That makes it even harder for me to do a summary of the book but what I want to do here is mainly two things- acknowledge and spread the word about this wonderfully researched and written book and also share some key insights.

To say that the author is crazy about trash is an understatement. She wanted so badly to learn about this topic that she applied for and got a job as a trash pickup person just to be able to write this book. I am not at all saying being a trash person is a bad thing (which by the way is one of the themes of the book- the perception general public have of these wonderful workers) but it’s really inspiring to have an author live someone’s life to be able to write about the life lived.

A few key takeaways I had was to always be aware how many invisible hands and people go to keeping a city clean and to show appreciation for the truly physical labor and good work they do. Reading the book gave me a new found respect for all laborers.

Second takeaway was just how dangerous their job is. People don’t want to see trash, yet continue to throw things away without a single thought, and later when the sanitation guys are actually picking up their trash, they yell at them for blocking the road.

I learnt that both men and women are eligible to do this strenuous work and contrary to belief, sanitation workers have a lot of pride in their work.

A fun learning was that sometimes they are able to retrieve and keep plenty of good stuff that gets discarded by the truly rich citizens of the city.

Here’s her Ted talk on the same topic.

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