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Publisher's Summary

America’s largest city generates garbage in torrents - 11,000 tons a 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 400-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.

©2013 Robin Nagle (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 04-12-13

tougher than it looks

Never occurred to me so clearly how much the sanitation department does, 365 days a year. From taking away the garbage, to keeping the streets clean, to plowing the snow. We should applaud these folks everyday for performing an essential service that most of us wouldn't go near. Lots of great stories and tidbits about what it is like to collect the garbage, clean the streets and make the snow disappear. Similar in arc to Kitchen Confidential, but without the sex.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • kris
  • Garden Grove, CA, United States
  • 09-05-13

I couldn't get through this one

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

It's not the book that I couldn't take - it was the narration

What do you think your next listen will be?

Something similar, just not with this narrator

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Her voice was not my taste and her cadence was very distracting for me. I couldn't even hear the story, all I could hear was her talking.

What character would you cut from Picking Up?

The narrator

Any additional comments?

Disappointing. I've heard/read similar books about the inside scoop on hotels and restaurants. I really looked forward to enjoying this as much. Unfortunately, I've tried every month or so to listen PAST her voice...I just can't. I give up!

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  • Justin
  • HENRICO, VA, United States
  • 06-11-13

Seemed interesting

What did you like best about Picking Up? What did you like least?

It seemed like an interesting topic as I knew nothing about how sanitation operates. However, it turned out to be a snoozer. IMO, it went into too much history of sanitation for my taste.

What three words best describe Mary Kane’s voice?

No problem with the narration

Did Picking Up inspire you to do anything?

man up and finish the book

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  • Michael
  • Palm Bay, FL, United States
  • 03-25-13

Not down and dirty, to flowery.

What disappointed you about Picking Up?

Robin Nagle's writing style may be ok for a romance novel, but way to ostentatious for a trash book.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Diarmuid
  • 08-24-16

Mr san man bring me a dream

Well-constructed story that goes deep into the details of the history and administration of sanitation in NYC. Some parts may not be for everyone (e.g. long descriptions of the byzantine bureaucracy of the DSNY) and the performer's intonation often sounds weird and robotic.