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PICKING UP

ON THE STREETS AND BEHIND THE TRUCKS WITH THE SANITATION WORKERS OF NEW YORK CITY

Sure to garner newfound respect for an essential yet greatly underappreciated workforce.

A deserving profile of the hardworking folks who work a particularly dirty job.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, refuse collection is the seventh most hazardous occupation. Nagle (Anthropology and Urban Studies/New York Univ.), the New York Department of Sanitation’s first-ever anthropologist-in-residence, confirms this with insightful information on both the job itself and the men and women who scour New York City’s streets. The physically strenuous work of the garbage collector encompasses the three-part official mandate of collection, disposal and snow removal. Though these distinct laborers receive “scant notice and even less praise” for collecting citywide refuse, Nagle writes, most are dedicated to their unique livelihood and faithfully adhere to the many restrictions of the trade, including the non-acceptance of tips, the rigorous written and physical exams, and the “instant termination” drug policy. Nagle points out that it’s our “lushly consumptive economy and culture” keeping these reliable workers in business, since, without them, “the city becomes unlivable, fast.” Her head-to-toe immersion in the sanitation process included manning a garbage-collection route and often exasperatedly reporting that the job is less a matter of on-the-job perils and more about the early-morning start times and the sheer physical resiliency required for successful employment. Nagle takes the science of scavenging seriously, as evidenced by her postgraduate seminar “Garbage in Gotham,” which included a tour of the colossally expansive Staten Island Fresh Kills landfill. Her multifaceted analysis alludes to the impermanent nature of the things we own, including our own bodies, and how the sanitation worker performs just one key component of that intricate transmogrification.

Sure to garner newfound respect for an essential yet greatly underappreciated workforce.

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0374299293

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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