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Mongo: Adventures in Trash Hardcover – June 26, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After moving to New York in the 1990s and furnishing his apartment with bounty from the city streets, the author discovered he wasn't the first or only enterprising scavenger around. In this entertaining narrative, Botha (Apartheid in My Rucksack) delves into a world of avid collectors who forage New York's garbage for everything from empty soda cans and leftover sushi to old coins and first editions. These treasures even have a distinct name—mongo—which The Cassell Dictionary of Slang defines as "any discarded object that is retrieved," Botha explains. Each chapter examines a different category of mongo seeker, from pack rats and preservationists to voyeurs and visionaries, whom Botha befriends and accompanies on their mostly nocturnal routes. Some of the most fascinating sections involve Dave, "The Treasure Hunter," whose frequent forays to Manhattan's landfills yield precious gems caked with mud; and "The Anarchists," a band of bicycle-riding young people who forgo grocery shopping in favor of gathering edibles from plastic bags outside restaurants. Steven, "The Dealer," a used- and rare-book merchant whose entire inventory comes from the street, emerges as one of the tour's most industrious characters; he gets up before dawn and "works more diligently than anyone in an office, seven days a week." Though some of Botha's observations are repetitive, he's an able guide through the undisputed capital of mongo. His sensitive and nonjudgmental study portrays a previously overlooked but resilient and passionate population as one that's worthy of attention and respect.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School - This book gives readers a peek into the underbelly of a thriving city and proves the maxim that "one man's trash is another man's treasure." While digging through the wealth of New York City rubbish, Botha met a variety of "mongo" collectors, whose reasons for their endeavors were as varied as their collections. Most urban dwellers will be familiar with the "survivalists" who gather aluminum cans, turn them in for the deposit, and earn a living this way. But they might not be aware of the territorial nature of these individuals, or how much like a job, with a route and a schedule, their collecting really is. Readers might think that they don't want to live like the "anarchists," who eat most of their food from the garbage, until they realize that the discarded sushi, health food, pastries, and pizza are not only delicious, but also help advance political views. Certainly among the most unusual are the "archaeologists," who use historical books, maps, and magazines to locate turn-of-the-century privies. Then they approach people about digging up their yards, hoping (and often succeeding) to find items that fell down outhouses a century ago. And there's money in mongo - finding first-edition books on the street and selling them for hundreds of dollars is another lucrative activity. Botha's book will appeal to the thrifty, the nosy, the entrepreneur, the environmentalist, and the artist. - Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st U.S. ed edition (June 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582344523
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582344522
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,093,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ebeling on June 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By the time Ted Botha notes "the civilian dread of the collector who might be a lunatic," about three quarters of the way through MONGO, the reader is no longer a civilian. The reader is helping to open a black garbage bag, waiting to see what is inside. Botha is writing about the people who cause passers-by to quicken their pace or cut a wide berth, those who mine trash if not for survival than for a reason to live. Botha set out to find out what makes them tick, and in doing so has opened up a very surprising world filled with fascinating, intelligent characters who blow away assumptions.
For the most part, Botha's world is New York City. He slips quietly and wide-eyed into each foray into an aspect of collecting but soon peels away aspects of the experience to reveal startling secrets. The author's tour guides live a little differently and are willing to put up with dirt, sludge, sewage and rotting garbage, not to mention the disdain of doormen and other "civilians." There are people who feed a whole commune from garbage cans, who furnish huge spaces, even build with found materials. There are hunters who excavate landfill and come up with relics from the Revolutionary War and the 19th century. There are the preservationists who have saved segments of the city's former grandeur when parking lots and glass buildings have gone up in their place. There are first editions of world classics, jewels and works of art.
Botha writes assuredly, making for a quick-paced but thoughtful book reminiscent of John McPhee's work. He does not impose value judgments or undue insights. Rather, he goes along for the ride and does a fine job of introducing a very wide-ranging social, psychological, economic culture that makes sense. In the end, it is the "respectable" middle and upper classes who have thrown away perfectly good things, in some cases deliberately poisoning them or creating laws to discourage pickers, who leave us scratching our heads.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people collect things, from books to stamps to shoes; it's usually a harmless diversion, perhaps even a social or educational outlet. Collecting garbage, that's something street people do. But that's not nearly the whole story. In _Mongo: Adventures in Trash_ (Bloomsbury), Ted Botha has reported on New York street collectors. "Mongo" is slang that originated in New York in the 1980s for "any discarded object that is retrieved." This decidedly does not mean mere garbage, the worthless rotting ephemera which no one wants. There are plenty of discarded things, however, from books to wood scraps to blocks of buildings, which the person who did the discarding thought were worth zero and which the eventual collector thought had value. And many times, that value is in the thousands. Frequently this is a surprising story of rags literally going to riches. Botha reminds us, "The street collector you see today could well be a bum or a lunatic, that's true enough, but just as easily a millionaire, a schoolteacher, an accountant, a doctor, a housewife." He has contacted all these levels to report on them.

This is a New York story, for a good reason. All mongo collectors of all levels "... agree on one thing: New York can't be beat." The reason is simple: "Great wealth makes great garbage." There is great wealth, true, but also people live very close together, meaning that collectors have to range minimally, and there is frequent turnover of renters. Remarkably, mongo collectors all are breaking the law. In New York City, garbage placed for pickup is no longer anyone's property but the city's. Even official sanitation workers are forbidden to take anything for themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
I truly enjoyed Ted Botha's story of the characters he encountered in search of Mongo,As any dumpster diver knows there are treasures to be found in dumpsters everywhere. Ted Botha does an excellent job of giving us insight into the world of the amazing and gifted people involved in dumpster diving in the streets of New York. The only thing I would have liked to have seen in this book is pictures of some of the incredible things rescued others considered trash. The individual & group efforts that were undertaken on the streets to perserve the wonderful history & culture of New York are incredible. Thank you Ted for showing the world that Dumpster Divers can be intelligent,resourceful,caring, creative & artistic human beings.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you enjoy garage sales, rummage sales, stop when you see a pile of objects left by the curb, this is the book for you. Fascinating if sometimes disturbing or downright awful ways of acquiring all kinds of objects of value or necessity practiced by gleaners in New York City. Expect to be amazed or possibly disgusted by the creativity and variety of the collectors. The author appears to have done a credible job of research to produce an informative
book. A fun read.
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Format: Paperback
Look it up in a dictionary and you'll find lots of different meanings for "mongo", but in this title it refers to anything salvaged, usually from trash. It is a fun trip around New York City meeting and salvaging with a large variety of people with different interests and styles. We all have probably seen "canners", those who collect and recycle cans for money, but this goes way beyond that! One of my favorites, of course, is the man who walks around town with his wagon, filling it up with free books he finds discarded. Then he goes home and rests, naps, relaxes, and is back at it in the afternoon, selling everything he found that morning. His policy is to keep very little, if any, of what he finds. There is the standard story about freegans as well as anarchists and artists who make art from trash. Another man watches remodeling sites for discards, and walks off with the pantry door from Jackie Kennedy's apartment, while another manages to snag an old confessional from the Vatican, which he has shipped to NYC and installed as an elevator in a home. It would be great to follow up reading this with Not Buying It - a story of a year of not buying anything. Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping
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