If you don't know a sanitation worker personally, and have never done the work yourself, you probably don't know much about the guys who take away the rubbish. New York University anthropologist Robin Nagle spent years researching the occupation, from following New York Department of Sanitation workers to training and taking the exam to become one herself. Then she wrote a book, Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City.
Sanitation workers, it turns out, have twice the fatality rates of police offers, and nearly seven times the fatality rates of firefighters. And their work has similarly life-or-death consequences in the long term, as Nagle shows by taking a look back at New York City's history. "A study done in 1851," Nagle writes, "concluded that fully a third of the city's deaths that year could have been prevented if basic sanitary measures had been in place."