Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

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Metropolitan Books, 1999 - Social Science - 355 pages
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AN UNPRECEDENTED LOOK AT THAT MOST COMMONPLACE ACT OF EVERYDAY LIFE -- THROWING THINGS OUT -- AND HOW IT HAS TRANSFORMED AMERICAN SOCIETY

Susan Strasser's pathbreaking histories of housework and the rise of the mass market have become classics in the literature of consumer culture. Here she turns to an essential but neglected part of that culture -- the trash it produces -- and finds in it an unexpected wealth of meaning.

Before the twentieth century, streets and bodies stank, but trash was nearly nonexistent. With goods and money scarce, everything possible was reused. Strasser paints a vivid picture of an America where scavenger pigs roamed the streets, "swill children" collected kitchen garbage, and itinerant peddlers traded manufactured goods for rags and bones.

In the last hundred years, that way of life has been replaced by mass consumption, disposable goods, and waste on a previously unimaginable scale. Strasser charts the triumph of "disposable" goods -- paper cups, toilet paper, packaged food -- those signature products of modern life. And she shows how Americans became hooked on convenience, fashion, and constant technological change -- as the mountains of garbage rose higher and higher.

Lively and colorful, Waste and Want recaptures a hidden part of our social history, vividly illustrating that what counts as trash depends on who's counting, and that what we throw away defines us as much as what we keep.

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Waste and want: a social history of trash

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The author of books on housework and the American mass market, social historian Strasser explores what America has discarded, from the period when Colonists valued everything up to today's era of ... Read full review

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About the author (1999)

Susan Strasser is the author of the award winning "Never Done" & "Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market." Her articles have appeared in "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," & "The Nation." A professor of history at the University of Delaware, she lives near Washington, D.C.

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