Cover image for Mongo : adventures in trash
Mongo : adventures in trash
Botha, Ted.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, [2004]

Physical Description:
243 pages ; 22 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.5 12.0 85745.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
AM231 .B68 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



mongo n. 1 [1970s +] an idiot. 2 [1980s +] (US, New York) any discarded object that is retrieved. 3. [1980s +] (US, New York) a scrap-metal scavenger. (The Cassell Dictionary of Slang)

When journalist Ted Botha moved to New York from South Africa, where people constructed homes out of what others considered trash, he decorated his apartment with furniture he found on Manhattan streets. Soon he realized he wasn't the only person finding things of value in the garbage, and he began roaming the streets meeting all kinds of collectors, united by their obsession with mongo-any discarded item that is rescued from the trash.

Here is Botha's remarkable record of his travels among collectors, who are as varied as the kind of mongo they seek. They range from housewife to homeless man, from accountant to computer consultant, from retrenched bank worker to full-time collector. One man finds jewelry in the sludge of New York's sewers; another has built one of the most extensive rare book collections in the city. The myriad reasons for collecting open a window into the range of human desires: some people collect for fun, others to make a living; some to find friends, others to snoop; some to make a political statement, others because it is an addiction. Collecting mongo is a longtime, universal phenomenon, at last receiving a worthy-and appropriately addictive-literary appreciation.

Author Notes

Ted Botha was born in New York and grew up in Japan, South Africa, and Washington, D.C. He has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Conde Nast Traveler, and Outside.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Agent, Luke Janklow. (June 28) Forecast: This book could have a strong New York following. Botha will conduct NYC mongo walking and collecting tours for booksellers and media, and the publisher will run ads in the New Yorker. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 The Pack Ratsp. 6
Chapter 2 The Survivalistsp. 33
Chapter 3 The Treasure Hunterp. 55
Chapter 4 The Anarchistsp. 78
Chapter 5 The Visionariesp. 103
Chapter 6 The Dealerp. 124
Chapter 7 The Voyeurp. 155
Chapter 8 The Archaeologistsp. 175
Chapter 9 The Preservationistp. 200
Chapter 10 The Cowboyp. 223