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Fat of the Land: Garbage of New York -- The Last Two Hundred Years Paperback – November 21, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Of all of New York's unnatural resources, garbage is perhaps the most lucrative and, historically, the most contested. This deeply researched, eclectic history of how New York has handled its increasingly mountainous accumulations of trash is social and political history at its best. As Miller's comprehensive view makes clear, the problem of urban garbage disposal has many tentacles. While social philosopher Jeremy Bentham viewed it as a moral problem, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks in the city later revealed that it was also a health problem. When new technology allowed grease to be easily extracted from refuse, however, it became an economic boon; as the metropolis began to expand, garbage also became a basic landfill material, producing millions for developers and city politicians. Miller, the former director of policy for the New York City Department of Sanitation, is equally at ease with the intricacies of Brooklyn ward politics, Frederick Law Olmsted's theories of urban planning and Edison's plan for convenient electricity, and manages to work many fascinating details into his larger economic and political framework. His story grows pointedly relevant when he details the 1938 efforts of municipal administrator Robert Moses to designate the Fresh Kills marshland as a landfill area (in order to fulfill his secret plan to build a bridge to New Jersey from Staten Island)Da move that infuriated environmentalists and continues to haunt the city's administrations. Miller has crafted a notably elegant treatment of this important though neglected topic. Agent, Malaga Baldi. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In densely populated New York City, garbage is a contentious political issue that, like the odorous stuff itself, never goes away. Miller is the in-house policy wonk for the city's sanitation department, and he has produced a remarkably readable history of the city's refuse-disposal problem. The smelly subject emerges as a fulcrum for the more obvious elements of civic life, such as politics and corruption, land-use battles, and the construction of the city's transportation infrastructure, which inevitably features public-works autocrat Robert Moses charging through Miller's narrative. Miller preludes that with the nineteenth-century's version of the problem: getting rid of dead animals. For decades a plant on "Barren" (Coney) Island dealt with the offal, while incinerators of other garbage dumped ashes in Queens. Miller's chapters about Moses underscore the paradox of his unaccountability with his ability to deal with garbage, albeit by creating the notorious Fresh Kills Dump on Staten Island. Coursing through the contemporary politics of NYC's garbage problem, Miller's case study is a must for the urban-studies shelf. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 425 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568581726
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568581729
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A. Schultz on November 22, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The colorful and fetid history of waste makes for an enervating read. Miller has done exhaustive and meticulous research to share with us the forgotten tale of where the trash went and the distressing facts about where it goes today.
There are many new, never-before revealed facts Miller has unearthed from the landfill of time-- he introduces us to an astounding and entertaining parade of bold scoundrels, do-gooder public health pioneers, social theorists, corrupt politicans, self-righteous environmentalists and a few good, clear thinkers tossed in for good measure. Miller himself is certainly one of them. He digs deep and leads us with a steady hand and a cool, observing eye to the places where were planted the seeds of public policy that have brought us to the ruin we face today. This cautionary tale applies not only to New York, though New York, as in many things, stands as the example, good and bad, of how disposal works.
Don't be put off by the subject or think this is an academic book. Miller is a superb prose stylist and his ability to summon vividly the characters and tenor of past times is often wonderfully Dickensian. This sleeper is a ripping good read. Enjoy! I've heard the author is going to be on NPR's Fresh Air in December. No pun intended, I gather...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By SF Buyer on November 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a former New Yorker, I'm enjoying this engrossing tale of money and politicians, public health and urban real estate moguls, and behind the scenes views of the forces that shaped the growth of one of the world's most dynamic cities.
Good read for those interested in history and politics, but also has enough nitty-gritty gossip and well-researched tales of corruption to be entertaining for the general reader.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
A richly rewarding read -- unrepentant, greedy politicians; real estate moguls of the Guilded Age; emerging awareness of public health needs; New York pathos. And a double espresso of gossip!
History and political buffs will devour; anyone interested in how one of the world's most dynamic cities rose from the mud will find this facsinating.
"Ragtime" but real.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is the story behind the people responsible for taking care of waste removal in New York City. The book begins with a chapter that traces the infamous woeful journey of the Mobro, the garbage barge that could not find a home. The main text of the book is divided into 4 sections: Engineering Reform (public health in Europe and America in the mid-1800s, early NYC contracts for gathering bones and organic matter in the mid-1800s), Expanding Opportunities (contracts for Central Park, elevated railways, the Brooklyn Ash incinerator), Public Work (roads and rails, bridges and tunnels, parks and parkways, ports and airports, all covering the 1930s to 1940s), and Landscape Sculpture (Rachel Carson, DDT, dioxins and incinerators, landfills, transfer stations, and NIMBYs). The book concludes with a chapter on the "Pew Yew Choo-Choo", a Mobro-like train that looked in vain for a place to unload. The book is amply illustrated with black and white photographs and drawings. At the end of the book are 90 pages of documentary notes, but presumably to strengthen the narrative of the text, they are not linked directly to the main text with endnote numbers.
The subtitle of the book,"Garbage of the New York the last two hundred years", is a very inaccurate guide to the book's actual contents. The book isn't about garbage, but about the people who wanted the garbage contracts over the years, and the politics involved with getting the contracts. Actually, the book also doesn't focus particularly strongly on garbage contracts either, since quite a few pages or even chapters are devoted to the contracts for other infrastructure projects, like Central Park and public transit systems.
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