Winner of the Abel Wolman Award of the Public Works Historical Society
Susan Strasser's pathbreaking histories of housework and the rise of the mass market have become classics in the literature of consumer culture. Waste and Want examines 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, 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 peddlers traded manufactured goods for rags and bones.
Over the last hundred years, however, that way of life has been replaced by mass consumption, disposable goods, and waste on a previously unimaginable scale.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.
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.