This is a book only Adam Minter could write. As detailed in Junkyard Planet, he is the great-grandson of a Russian scrap picker (think Steptoe and Son) and his family has been involved in the business ever since. Minter himself worked in the family scrap yard as a young adult, but after some family drama (involving his dad, as described in the book) he set off to become a journalist... a scrap journalist in China, to be precise. Looks like scrap never leaves your blood.
Minter has been in China for over a decade, and his personal involvement and knowledge of scrap has gained him incredible access into an industry everyone contributes to but few people know much about. He takes us to Christmas light recycling facilities and car shredders, to Chinese plastics recycling towns to municipal recycling plants in Texas. Along the way, we meet a wonderful group of characters - my favorite was Leonard Fritz, who grew up very poor in Detroit in the 1930s, and scrapped his way to wealth. Also memorable is a Chinese scrap trader who spends his days driving across the United States in search of American scrap to send to China - Minter spends a prolonged period on the road, and what results is a story of globalization and personal fortitude. What makes Junkyard Planet so enjoyable (instead of a dry text on scrap) is the affection Minter has for these people, and his sympathy for the industry. He doesn't shy away from the industry's problems either (pollution, etc) and tries to present a balanced look at the good and bad.
All in all, a bloody good look at an important industry. I only wish that Minter had taken a look at some UK/European scrap yards and characters (the book is very much focused on US/Asia, though that doesn't make it irrelevant to others).