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Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

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3.73  ·  Rating Details  ·  224 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
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
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Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 1st 2000 by Holt Paperbacks
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,228)
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Ariane
Jan 11, 2009 Ariane rated it it was ok
professor strasser sure knows her way around original source materials. But a litany of quotes from Women's Housekeeping through the ages does not satisfying reading make.
Alex Lee
Sep 17, 2015 Alex Lee rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, economics, essays
Strasser's modest book is an examination into the short history of trash... which is also a history of how the image of household status became, through post-industrial capitalism, attainable for the average American family... and how that image in its purity, shed its excess into garbage bins, trash cans, landfills, and the ocean.

Strasser examines how we go to where we are with our attitudes of what is disposable, what is usable, and what is wholly taken for granted, mostly examining from the m
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Rena Sherwood
This review originally appeared on Celsias.com in 2008:

"Give me your tired, your poor ...Your wretched refuse of your teeming shore..."

- From the base of the Statue of Liberty

Susan Strasser's 1999 "Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash" could have been titled America & Trash: A Love Story. The book focuses on America's relationship to trash - sometimes with love and sometimes with abuse. There are some comparisons made to Europe's relationship with rubbish, but mainly the focus is on pos
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Jodi
Nov 15, 2012 Jodi rated it it was ok


It took me FOREVER to finish this book. It was sooooo dull in parts but I persevered just because there were sections I found fascinating. It was just way too long and read like someone's dissertation. The pages and pages on the collection and disposal of rags was enough to make me toss the book aside. But I did enjoy learning more about the development of things like feminine products and the consumer culture. Two and half stars.
Lisa
Jan 03, 2008 Lisa rated it really liked it
I love this book. Thought provoking look at the anthropology of waste. My grandparents have had the same television for over 20 years; is my 4 year-old laptop really that ancient?
Jeramey
Mar 08, 2014 Jeramey rated it liked it
A different take on the many books about garbage I've now read. This one follows the origins of garbage and its many different uses.
Ashley
Not a bad read - it was times a little too in-depth and at times not in-depth enough. I found the exhaustive discussions of rag collecting and reuse to be utterly boring, but the discussion of Kotex and Kleenex's proliferation in the consumer market were fascinating to me. Overall, I think Strasser did a pretty nice job covering the social aspect of trash and our attitudes toward it over the years and how it has changed.

Historically, people religiously used and re-used all items until they were
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David Bates
May 23, 2013 David Bates rated it really liked it
Waste and Want by Susan Strasser is about a nexus which unites a broader story of economic transformation - Strasser’s subject is trash. Defining trash conceptually as something which is out of place and unusable to us Strasser uses it as the lynchpin of an examination of the journey of American society from largely self-sufficient colonial agriculture to modern consumer culture. The transition away from a self-sufficient attitude toward goods, in which much of the stock of the household was per ...more
Stephen
Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash
2000 Susan Strasser
368 pages



Consider your trash can. In all likelihood, you cannot imagine not using it. What else would you do all with the trash generated in the course of day to day living? And yet trash cans haven't always been a fixture in our homes; until the 19th century, people invariably fond uses for whatever extraneous materials they produced, so much so that waste was an anomaly But now, disposing of it is a mammoth task, handled by the gov
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Talia
Feb 11, 2012 Talia rated it it was amazing
Terrific book, very well-written and well-researched. I loved this book's historical take on trash--focusing not on actual disposal practices (what "Gone Tomorrow" tried but failed to do), but instead on how we define trash, and how that definition is shaped by the times and the resources/technologies available to us.

From the intro chapter: "Everything that comes into the end-of-millennium home--every toaster, pair of trousers, and ounce of soda pop, and every box and bag and bottles they arrive
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Jennifer Heise
Sep 12, 2015 Jennifer Heise rated it it was amazing
This efficient but readable history of trash, specifically American trash, and the cultural developments in our attitudes toward discards, worn out or no longer fashionable items, covers a lot of ground successfully. Admittedly, the author is rather addicted to the word "bricolage" (constructing things from whatever comes to hand, i.e. re-using bits and pieces to repair and re-use items), but other than that, her writing style is addictive. Find out about the rise of the garage sale, where "Use ...more
Melissa
Jan 08, 2010 Melissa rated it really liked it
Add to the list of "I never thought the history of ____ would be so interesting."
Read as background material for an upcoming exhibit at the museum, this is one of the most readable histories I've read in a while. Strasser starts with rag shops, peddlars, and takes us all the way to the recycling boom of the 1970s. She explores class, industry, personal habits, corporations, and marketing. One of the best passages was about the development of Kotex.
Great, great stuff with all sorts of fun tidbits
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Deborah
Feb 11, 2009 Deborah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book explains what people (mainly in the 1800's) used to do with trash. For example, it talks about how people would make old clothing over into new outfits, turn sheets, use cooking fats to make soap, fix broken items because they knew how those items worked and had spare parts around, and so on. She also details how these attitudes changed over time from then to now.

I found the book very interesting and also easy-to-read. I've added it to my personal library for future reference.
Adam Minter
May 12, 2013 Adam Minter rated it it was amazing
This is one of the great social histories that I've ever read. Strasser's narrative not only explains how we wasted, but how our thinking about waste has evolved since the industrial revolution. That may sound dry, but it's written so well, and with such scintillating insight, that I think somebody who isn't even interested in the subject would be entranced with it after this book. Few books will change how you look at history and the present so completely as this one. A gem.
Stephanie Hatch
I've never given much thought to any of the concepts this book covers so on the whole I found it revelatory and fascinating. It's breadth and depth is enormous and while I was along for the ride many people who should read this book probably won't make it past the early chapters of rag and bone picking. It is rare that a book can so well encapsulate a cultural shift especially about things or concepts people don't want to talk about. This is "forgotten" history at its best.
Kbg503
Dec 05, 2013 Kbg503 rated it really liked it
Very impressed just after reading the Introduction "Toward a History of Trashmaking". Nice to know that if I ever want to read the ruling by the Supreme Court on how private is our household trash, I know where to go.

Kind of a fun read in learning how changes came about in terms of consumption, the collection of re-usable/fixable items and trash, donations to charities, municipalities, during WW II, and views on recycling.
kathryn
Oct 11, 2011 kathryn rated it liked it
more about consumption and history of objects and how we use them..was good. lots of facts-not really a storytelling style (which is fun in some nonfiction) but also not too dry. a lot of info on rag pickers and peddlers, I would be interested in reading a bit more on them. also, the full history of how sanitary napkins was a nice example of how a disposable product was also advertised as liberating.
Shellie
Apr 07, 2010 Shellie rated it really liked it
This is not an entertaining book, it really is the history of trash, but I was very entertained. It's about how American's have dealt with garbage over the years. It really is an interesting book filled with historical tidbits, great for trivia games.
Cristy Davies
I found this fascinating. The household moves from a unit of production whose waste is sold and reused (bones, rags, etc.) to a pure unit of consumption creating ever more waste. Thought provoking and relevant.
Jada Roche
Apr 04, 2013 Jada Roche rated it liked it
Shelves: micro-history
Not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't really all that interesting. Writing was dry and felt like fact were just being rhymed off. I love this type of thing usually so I was disappointed by thi.
Sue
Aug 08, 2013 Sue rated it liked it
I'm old enough to have practiced some of these techniques--not that I do that now. City-living, like the book proposes, does not promote recycling as they did it before the 20th century.
Danielle
Nov 12, 2015 Danielle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Like reading a research paper. Sure there was a lot of interesting information... but it was soooooo boring that I just couldn't read the entirety of this book.
Elena
Sep 03, 2012 Elena rated it liked it
The book started off too slow, too much emphasis and repetition about what used to happen to textiles. It got more interesting after that.
Patty
Apr 30, 2011 Patty rated it really liked it
Our relationship with the stuff we don't want or need any more is reviewed from early American history til modern times.
Elizabeth Newell
A really interesting book on the how waste was created, viewed, and disposed of/reused in the history of the US.
Cara
May 06, 2011 Cara added it
Shelves: did-not-read
Just couldn't do this one right now. So much history! But I have to say I didn't make it past the first chapter!
Kristen
need to keep reading this sometime, but it was due at the library... interesting book!
Jz
Mar 15, 2009 Jz rated it did not like it
Premise was interesting, but the writing was a huge-turn off. Blech.
mahatma
Mar 07, 2016 mahatma marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
"nothing is inherently trash...trash is created by sorting"
Mark Greene
Feb 04, 2012 Mark Greene rated it really liked it
eye-opening
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