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Rats: Observations on the History Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

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New York Public Library Book for the Teenager New York Public Library Book to Remember PSLA Young Adult Top 40 Nonfiction Titles of the Year "Engaging...a lively, informative compendium of facts, theories, and musings."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of this most perversely intriguing, New York Public Library Book for the Teenager New York Public Library Book to Remember PSLA Young Adult Top 40 Nonfiction Titles of the Year "Engaging...a lively, informative compendium of facts, theories, and musings."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of this most perversely intriguing, remarkable, and unexpectedly elegant New York Times bestseller. Love them or loathe them, rats are here to stay-they are city dwellers as much as (or more than) we are, surviving on the effluvia of our society. In Rats, the critically acclaimed bestseller, Robert Sullivan spends a year investigating a rat-infested alley just a few blocks away from Wall Street. Sullivan gets to know not just the beast but its friends and foes: the exterminators, the sanitation workers, the agitators and activists who have played their part in the centuries-old war between human city dweller and wild city rat. Sullivan looks deep into the largely unrecorded history of the city and its masses-its herds-of-rats-like mob. Funny, wise, sometimes disgusting but always compulsively readable, Rats earns its unlikely place alongside the great classics of nature writing. With an all-new Afterword by the author


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New York Public Library Book for the Teenager New York Public Library Book to Remember PSLA Young Adult Top 40 Nonfiction Titles of the Year "Engaging...a lively, informative compendium of facts, theories, and musings."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of this most perversely intriguing, New York Public Library Book for the Teenager New York Public Library Book to Remember PSLA Young Adult Top 40 Nonfiction Titles of the Year "Engaging...a lively, informative compendium of facts, theories, and musings."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of this most perversely intriguing, remarkable, and unexpectedly elegant New York Times bestseller. Love them or loathe them, rats are here to stay-they are city dwellers as much as (or more than) we are, surviving on the effluvia of our society. In Rats, the critically acclaimed bestseller, Robert Sullivan spends a year investigating a rat-infested alley just a few blocks away from Wall Street. Sullivan gets to know not just the beast but its friends and foes: the exterminators, the sanitation workers, the agitators and activists who have played their part in the centuries-old war between human city dweller and wild city rat. Sullivan looks deep into the largely unrecorded history of the city and its masses-its herds-of-rats-like mob. Funny, wise, sometimes disgusting but always compulsively readable, Rats earns its unlikely place alongside the great classics of nature writing. With an all-new Afterword by the author

30 review for Rats: Observations on the History Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    This book is not about rats. I learned a few things about them (they can collapse their bodies and can squeeze through any hole as big as their heads; they can take cats in a fight), but this book was mostly about the author's life and interviews of all sorts of terminally dull people intimately or slightly connected to rats. He made extermination boring (impossible!). The author himself was kind of a wuss when it came to both rats (understandable) and his interview subjects (deplorable in a jou This book is not about rats. I learned a few things about them (they can collapse their bodies and can squeeze through any hole as big as their heads; they can take cats in a fight), but this book was mostly about the author's life and interviews of all sorts of terminally dull people intimately or slightly connected to rats. He made extermination boring (impossible!). The author himself was kind of a wuss when it came to both rats (understandable) and his interview subjects (deplorable in a journalist). His investigation of rats was limited to watching them from a chair outside an alley, and I swear an entire chapter was devoted to him trying but failing to gain a private audience with America's foremost rat expert at a rat convention. My search for the perfect rat resource skitters greasily on.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Yesterday when I came out of my building, I was confronted by a giant rat standing at the bottom of the steps, looking up at me. Yeah, right at me. It was still light out, and the thing just stood there stolidly gazing up, unafraid, just, yeah, looking at me! See, my front yard is infested with large, fearless rats. They live in a hole in the dirt and frolic in the garbage. The hole's recently been plugged up, but the rats don't seem to care; as this book reminds us, they're adaptable animals. I Yesterday when I came out of my building, I was confronted by a giant rat standing at the bottom of the steps, looking up at me. Yeah, right at me. It was still light out, and the thing just stood there stolidly gazing up, unafraid, just, yeah, looking at me! See, my front yard is infested with large, fearless rats. They live in a hole in the dirt and frolic in the garbage. The hole's recently been plugged up, but the rats don't seem to care; as this book reminds us, they're adaptable animals. I've sat on my stoop on a fine spring day, watching the big rats romp in the yard, climbing into bags of trash and writhing joyously around inside, like the cartoon rat Templeton in that memorable fair scene in the Charlotte's Web movie. Anyway, this rat yesterday clearly wanted something, and I took its keenly intimidating, beady-eyed stare to mean that it was telling me that I'd better review this book. Since I'm currently on the bus to Philadelphia (INTERNET! On the BUS! I'm like a RAT in a FILTHY REEKING GARBAGE BAG!!!), there's no time like the present. Okay, so when I was in the first grade, my across-the-street frenemy Lindsay Kagawa had a pet rat named Twinkie. Twinkie was what this book taught me is called a "fancy rat." She was little and delicate and black and white, and she lived in a cage in Lindsay's room. Lindsay and I both loved her rat, and we'd write letters to one another every day, letters that featured drawings of Twinkie engaged in a number of activities (e.g., getting married, doing ballet, holding balloons), letters that were hand delivered into mailboxes and adorned with pencil-drawn stamps featuring portraits of -- who else? -- Twinkie the rat. In the ninth grade, my friend Isabel Douglass had a fancy rat of her own, named Selene (she also had a zine called Selene, after the rat). Isabel was a forward-thinking young lady, and as you might guess based on the silk-screened "Rent is Theft" tee shirt she wore every day, Selene had no cage, living instead on Isabel's very lovely, if not totally cleanly, person. I remember this being an issue when we'd go eat hot and sour soup at Long Life Veggie House, because restaurant people tended to become upset when Selene poked out, so it was a constant struggle for Isabel to keep her fancy rat concealed at these times. I think Selene eventually ran away from home (as Isabel herself had) to join her gutterpunk rat boyfriend who lived in a sewer. She was replaced by another pet rat -- I want to say Travis? -- but I'm not sure what happened to him. I think he eventually ran off too, to help build up the rat population of Berkeley. If rats don't have cages, they tend to run off. Also, rats are very sensual creatures, according to this book, anyway. Those rats have needs! Anyway, at the time I looked upon both Twinkie and Selene as adorable little comrades, much to the horror and revulsion of my mother, a woman born and bred -- not incidentally -- on the island of Manhattan. My mother was thoroughly disgusted by the idea of rats as pets, and her hatred of rodents was something I never understood, either as a naive and anthropomorphizing child, or as an annoying anti-anthrocentric teenager. "Rats are cute, mom!" I said. "Rabbits are rodents. What makes rats grosser than rabbits? It doesn't make any sense why you hate them so much!" "Ugh," she shuddered, and I rolled my eyes. Then I moved to New York.... and now I get it. Well, I do and I don't. The sight and even the thought of rats is now one of the most disgusting things that I can imagine. When I see them running in the subway tracks or down the street, I watch, transfixed, but I'm also nauseated and repulsed. There is just something so -- revolting, so disturbing about these creatures. Vermin! Ugh!! The larger they are, the more disgusting and scary; the closer they get, the more horrifying, and the idea of large numbers of rats, of bands and tribes, of rats en masse, swarming and scurrying.... UGHH!! Every night when I come home I cross the front yard gingerly, terrified I'll step on one of them. To me rats now represent danger and disease, but there is something more there, deep seated and primal, something Jungian about my feelings towards them that I don't understand. Yeah, rats are gross -- they are filthy animals, they do eat garbage, they do live in sewers, they do bite people, they spread the plague and other diseases (a public health expert in this book calls them "germ elevators") -- but their repulsiveness still seems like more than the sum of their parts. I was hoping this book would explain this to me, or even better, that it would demystify my fear and loathing of the rat. I hoped that I could go back to the days of Twinkie and Selene and become, if not open to having them crawl all over my body, at least more comfortable sharing my space with these creatures who are, quite clearly, not going anywhere anytime soon. But this book didn't do that. Let's be clear: Rats is a good book, and I learned a lot from it and found it thoroughly enjoyable. But precisely because it was good, I hold it to a higher standard, and I really think Rats needed one more serious, tough, grueling revision in order to become truly great and do some transcendent form of justice to its fascinating subject. Still, it's a worthwhile read, and contains some great New York City history, as well as interesting information about rats. The premise of the book is that the author decides to spend a year watching rats in an alley in lower Manhattan, while also hanging out with exterminators and researching the history of tenant activism, bubonic plague, Revolutionary War-era Manhattan, and other kinds of obviously and not-so-obviously rat-related information. One thing I loved about this was that both alleys where Sullivan does his rat watching were right around the corner from my office, so I got to check out the locations he was discussing (though I didn't go at night, which is prime rat-watching time). My excitement about the neighborhood sort of made it okay that his rat watching didn't ultimately seem to have much of a point. Sullivan's book isn't bad, but a lot stuff in here, like the rat watching, is interesting but never seems to go anywhere. I did get annoyed because he started with this sort of Transcendentalist, naturalist conceit about his rat-watching, which would've been great except it took him way too long to get over the silliness or oddness of his project. He should've just thrown himself into it and been like, "I am Thoreau, and this alley is my Walden," but he compromises that idea when halfway through the book he's still exclaiming, "OMG! I can't believe I'm watching rats, this is so crazy!" I know this seems like a minor complaint, but I wanted him to take it seriously from the beginning, and stop congratulating himself for the quirkiness of his idea. Sullivan does eventually give himself over to his topic, but for me it took him a little too long to do it, and once he got there, he didn't quite go far enough in pulling it all together. I think he was trying to say that people are really a lot like rats, but he didn't make that explicit enough, in a way that explained or illuminated our animosity towards them. He came really close, and started to get there at several points, especially at the end, but the book never quite came together and changed the way I thought about rats in a profound way. That's why I say this book needed one more thorough revision to go from great to good -- the elements were all there, but it didn't ever come together as amazingly as I wanted it to. It did, however, make me think quite a lot about rats, something that's really been a problem because I've recently been running a lot, and seeing things move out of the corner of my eye has led to a lot of embarrassing screeching and sideways leaps into the air (it's always turned out to be a bird or a plastic bag -- knock wood). Rats were always on my mind while I was reading this, and I'm definitely more conscious now of their presence all around me, at all times -- ugh. I've always been grossed out by the heaps of garbage coating New York, especially during the summer, and I'm now even more disturbed by them. Gross! When we surround ourselves with garbage, we get the rats that we deserve.... Living in New York does make me feel like a rat, especially when I'm riding the train at rush hour. For years, that old Fear line about "rats in our cage" has scurried through my brain as I swarm out through the station and cram myself into packed cars. The problem with this book was that it validated this feeling without adding much to it. There are a few great moments -- as when, at the beginning, Sullivan compares the efficiency of a rat poison bait station to fast food restaurants -- but not much that's revelatory. Still, if you're interested in vermin or in New York City social history, I do recommend reading this book. It took me awhile to get through because I like to read while I'm eating, and that just wasn't an option here.... still, it was great on the subway. Rats is, despite my whining, enjoyable, informative, and not a waste of time at all.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This book was -- and I am choosing this word carefully, given the title -- delightful. Yes, it's about rats, and not cute rats that become pets. Robert Sullivan writes about the big brown rats with scary teeth that live in the alleys and sewers and garbage of New York City. It is spectacularly interesting, sometimes very funny, and, at times, deeply moving. This book was -- and I am choosing this word carefully, given the title -- delightful. Yes, it's about rats, and not cute rats that become pets. Robert Sullivan writes about the big brown rats with scary teeth that live in the alleys and sewers and garbage of New York City. It is spectacularly interesting, sometimes very funny, and, at times, deeply moving.

  4. 5 out of 5

    B. Rule

    I found this book both frustrating and pointless. While there were a handful of interesting factoids and anecdotes, I learned next to nothing about rats. About half of the book is him saying "I was getting ready to go look at rats" and the last half is his extremely superficial observations of rats in an alley. (They like to eat! They run along walls! He can maybe, MAYBE, recognize a single rat after months and months of observations!) There is a weird part where he gives up on any effort at nar I found this book both frustrating and pointless. While there were a handful of interesting factoids and anecdotes, I learned next to nothing about rats. About half of the book is him saying "I was getting ready to go look at rats" and the last half is his extremely superficial observations of rats in an alley. (They like to eat! They run along walls! He can maybe, MAYBE, recognize a single rat after months and months of observations!) There is a weird part where he gives up on any effort at narrative consistency and just includes a bullet point list of things he did once in Milwaukee. The flow is really disjointed. The worst part of this book, though, is the insufferably pretentious writing style of the author, which periodically builds to a fever pitch. At one point he offers what is purportedly excerpts from the diary he kept while sitting in the alley. Within one hour, he has quoted Confucius, Milton, and a Latin aphorism, all to make weak jokes about rats. It took a supreme effort of will to read past that section without my head exploding in incredulity. It's pretty obvious that the author has some weird inferiority complex regarding writing about such a "low" topic and that he's compensating with overblown efforts to show he's "above" his subject. There are even cringeworthy sections where he describes himself justifying writing the book to people at cocktail parties. Dude, if you don't think your subject is inherently worthy, DON'T WRITE THE BOOK! The rats deserve better. The cover is the best part about this book, so drink that in and then move on.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Abigail Hilton

    This is a rambling and ultimately disappointing book. Rats as a microcosm of human history should make a fascinating study, but...they don't. At least, not here. The author seems unable to decide what his book is really about. Is it about his daily observations of rats in an alley in New York? Is it about New York City itself with rats as a vehicle and focal point? Is it about human history in relation to rats? The author jumps randomly between these lines of thought, giving none of them serious This is a rambling and ultimately disappointing book. Rats as a microcosm of human history should make a fascinating study, but...they don't. At least, not here. The author seems unable to decide what his book is really about. Is it about his daily observations of rats in an alley in New York? Is it about New York City itself with rats as a vehicle and focal point? Is it about human history in relation to rats? The author jumps randomly between these lines of thought, giving none of them serious attention. One would think that any of these three subjects could fill 220 pages, but instead, the book contains lots of padding - completely unrelated blow-by-blow descriptions of Sullivan's jaunts to various marginally rat-related places and people. An excerpt: "I was able to stop in the middle of Union Station and lean back against a wall and watch people as they streamed in and out of train-track exits and entrances, in and out of exits to Chicago's streets, of the entrance and exits to a restaurant also marked with signs indicating areas for ordering food to go versus to stay. I smelled food. I grabbed some." Pages of this stuff, going nowhere, like a poor travel-writer describing his vacation. In addition, the author is at pains to tell us that he does not like rats and thinks they're disgusting. He exhibits a strange squeamishness, even after spending many hours watching rats. As someone who does feel a level of compassion and interest in rats as animals, I found his attitude tiresome. He seemed concerned that the audience might actually think he liked his subjects. If you're interested in rats, give this book a miss. If you're interested in minutia about New York City, you might find some jumping off points for further research.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Kling

    Urban nature writing. While researching rats, Sullivan also tells the story of the social history of the New York alley he becomes a fixture in. He becomes this fixture so the rats become comfortable with him there and they go about their business of running through restaurant garbage every night. He also attends exterminator conventions in the mid-west and is given access to the World Trade Center after 9/11 to find the rats are doing well and fine among all the death and destruction. I found th Urban nature writing. While researching rats, Sullivan also tells the story of the social history of the New York alley he becomes a fixture in. He becomes this fixture so the rats become comfortable with him there and they go about their business of running through restaurant garbage every night. He also attends exterminator conventions in the mid-west and is given access to the World Trade Center after 9/11 to find the rats are doing well and fine among all the death and destruction. I found this book full of random and interesting information about rats and their place in this world. I was also entertained through the whole book and amazed that this guy's wife let him back in the house every night.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    What a weirdly enjoyable book. If I had to guess why this book was written, I’d say it was to shine light on the real settlers of NYC, the rats and pests that were long before people. Rats are surprisingly important to the city’s history as the author did a good job of explaining. They’re everywhere- in poor, rich, and middle class areas.The great equalizers, rats have played a role in the growth and death of many NYC neighborhoods and beyond. One of the most interesting parts of the book to me w What a weirdly enjoyable book. If I had to guess why this book was written, I’d say it was to shine light on the real settlers of NYC, the rats and pests that were long before people. Rats are surprisingly important to the city’s history as the author did a good job of explaining. They’re everywhere- in poor, rich, and middle class areas.The great equalizers, rats have played a role in the growth and death of many NYC neighborhoods and beyond. One of the most interesting parts of the book to me was the chapter on the garbage riots of the 1970s and how rats became an important pawn to the union strikers asking for fair wages. Rats were also used as weapons (literally) in the Harlem tenant strikes in the 1960s and helped lead the city towards safer and cleaner housing for immigrant families. There’s a lot of history interwoven in the authors narrative and I liked the way he painted a picture of rats as citizens of the city alongside humans. What I didn’t like was how he went overboard on romanticizing the rats. One of the last chapters is completely devoted to one rat, The Rat King, and the author watches him for days until one day he comes back and the big rat is dead. I’m glad that was one of the last chapters because it started making me question this man’s sanity. It was a really interesting book and it made me curious about the “old history” of New York City and where I live. To paraphrase the rat man, there’s a lot going on under your feet if you’re curious enough to look at it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    Rats are pretty gross. Not the pet rats you occasionally see in cages but full on wild, eating garbage, long tailed, with yellow teeth rats. The latter is the subject of Robert Sullivan’s eye opening book about the pest everyone loves to hate. Sullivan, for reasons not particularly clear to himself, decides to spend four seasons in a New York City alley observing rats in their daily habitat. Along the way he traces the history of the alley from tenant strikes in the 1960’s to the origins of Rats are pretty gross. Not the pet rats you occasionally see in cages but full on wild, eating garbage, long tailed, with yellow teeth rats. The latter is the subject of Robert Sullivan’s eye opening book about the pest everyone loves to hate. Sullivan, for reasons not particularly clear to himself, decides to spend four seasons in a New York City alley observing rats in their daily habitat. Along the way he traces the history of the alley from tenant strikes in the 1960’s to the origins of the American Revolution. These historical vignettes are mostly fairly interesting but the book really shines when it focuses on the rats. For some reason, I share Sullivan’s fascination with universally despised but fascinating creatures. (for a good example of this I highly recommend Kelsi Nagy’s wonderful book “Trash Animals”) Rats in particular are tough (it took double the amount of anesthetic that would have killed a small cat to knock out a 12 inch rat), clever and remarkably adept at surviving and adapting. Rarely straying far from the radius of their nests for food and with seemingly distinct food preferences (apparently peanut butter is universally loved by them while the rats Sullivan observed were often seen fighting of discarded chicken pot pies). Rats are also notoriously difficult to trap in that they are highly sensitive to changes in their environment and are extremely cautious creatures. One such example made me chuckle a bit was some rats nests: “have been found stuffed with the gnawed shavings of the wood-based, spring-loaded snap traps that are used in attempts to kill them.” Yes, rats apparently have a sense of humor as well. Toward the end of the book, Sullivan observes that rats in fact, are not unlike human’s in many ways in that: “We are all a little like rats. We come and go. We are beaten down but we come back again. We live in colonies and we strike out on our own, or get forced out or starved out or are eaten up by our competition, by the biggest rats. We thrive in unlikely places, and devour…We are the rats whose population may boom, whose population may decline, who can survive where no other species could or would want to…With caution, we will flourish; without it we will not; we will starve and die and maybe kill each other, maybe not.” Upon reflection, it’s difficult to argue otherwise. While Sullivan does go out of his way to emphasize that he doesn’t find rats to be cute or likable in any way, he does grudgingly respect our similarities. “We humans are always looking for a species to despise, especially since we can and do act so despicably ourselves. We shake our heads as rats overpopulate, fight over limited food supplies, and then go to war until the population is killed down, but then we proceed to follow the same battle plan.” In the end, what we hate about rats is perhaps what we secretly despise and admire about ourselves.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Helio

    I almost gave this book a DNF after two chapters but it was an easy read with sometimes interesting information peripherally related to rats. There were tidbits about the Bubonic Plague in China, the Battle of Golden Hill, squalor living conditions in San Francisco, mania for native plants in Germany, Audubon, Thoreau's Walden, poisons, when Extermintaors began to be called Pest Control Operators (in 1936), and estimates of rat populations in NewYork City. Sullivan, the author, suggests 250,000 i I almost gave this book a DNF after two chapters but it was an easy read with sometimes interesting information peripherally related to rats. There were tidbits about the Bubonic Plague in China, the Battle of Golden Hill, squalor living conditions in San Francisco, mania for native plants in Germany, Audubon, Thoreau's Walden, poisons, when Extermintaors began to be called Pest Control Operators (in 1936), and estimates of rat populations in NewYork City. Sullivan, the author, suggests 250,000 is the reasonable estimate then goes on to mention an authority says there are a million rats on Riker Island. So Manhattan, some 400 time the size of Rikers has 1/4 the rats? I don't think so. Here is an article > https://www.google.com/amp/s/observer... Sullivan notes there are 250 businesses doing rat control in NYC, the largest having 100 employees. Let's say they all did = 25,000 employees, each dispatching a conservative one rat a day (say in a 400 day year) = ten million rats gone - they wouldn't be in business long if there were only 250,000 to deal with. Another thing that bothered me was that right near the beginning (page six) Sullivan advises he wasn't going to talk about fancy rats (pet rats and lab rats). Come-on-now a book about rats and he brings in antecdotes about China, history, Audubon, Walden, various legislations and he is going to leave out lab rats! I would have rather he spent his time comparing maze running times of white lab rats to black sewer rats than sitting in an alley watching rats burrow into garbage. Enough of rats I am moving onto lobsters.

  10. 5 out of 5

    miriam

    i started reading this book while i was working in the idaho desert without real barrier between myself and the surrounding environment (read:rodents)... after a few nights, i decided that the fact i was trying to avoid acknowledging the rats crawling on and around me as i tried to go to sleep wasn't the best time to be reading this book. this book acheives a laudable success in documenting the amazingly disgusting existence, habits and characteristics of rats, as it sets out to do, perhaps all i started reading this book while i was working in the idaho desert without real barrier between myself and the surrounding environment (read:rodents)... after a few nights, i decided that the fact i was trying to avoid acknowledging the rats crawling on and around me as i tried to go to sleep wasn't the best time to be reading this book. this book acheives a laudable success in documenting the amazingly disgusting existence, habits and characteristics of rats, as it sets out to do, perhaps all too well. and the history presented is intriguing. i particularly love the scene, as i've explained to many, many people since reading it, about the underground rat fighting circuits staged in the back of seedy lower eastside taverns at the turn of the century. the image of men chasing and capturing rats in a makeshift ring, then with only their bare hands and bloody cheeks, breaking the rats' necks between their teeth can only be described as "AWESOME!"

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jenna Los

    Another great idea for a book that fell a bit flat. Sullivan spent a great deal of time sitting in an alley watching rats, but I don't think he really "discovered" all that much that wasn't already known. He mentions several scientists whose experiences would have been much more informative and interesting to read than this bit. For instance, one scientists takes rats off a street in Baltimore and then presents them with various bits of garbage to see which they prefer; Sullivan remarks that onc Another great idea for a book that fell a bit flat. Sullivan spent a great deal of time sitting in an alley watching rats, but I don't think he really "discovered" all that much that wasn't already known. He mentions several scientists whose experiences would have been much more informative and interesting to read than this bit. For instance, one scientists takes rats off a street in Baltimore and then presents them with various bits of garbage to see which they prefer; Sullivan remarks that once the rats are in the garbage bags on his alley, he has no idea what they are doing and can only watch the bag ripple with their movements.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I have two pet rats that I play with and watch endlessly, so I guess I could really identify with the author. They're such cunning, wily little guys. They were"rescued" from a feeder pet store for snake food. Although mine are the so-called "fancy" rats, one is brown and the other is black and look much more like common sewer rats. That being said, I thought it was interesting how much rats have influenced and/or been part of the politics of NYC for many years. Nice, easy read and not too scienc I have two pet rats that I play with and watch endlessly, so I guess I could really identify with the author. They're such cunning, wily little guys. They were"rescued" from a feeder pet store for snake food. Although mine are the so-called "fancy" rats, one is brown and the other is black and look much more like common sewer rats. That being said, I thought it was interesting how much rats have influenced and/or been part of the politics of NYC for many years. Nice, easy read and not too science-y- almost more of an autobiography with rat info thrown in.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    It was okay, for someone with no history/knowledge of rats and did all their research from a bench in a shady alley. But I would have really loved to read some information from a real expert. I think reading the Wikipedia page would have covered more, to be honest.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    Rats by Robert Sullivan is a fascinating study of rats and their cohabitation with humans. One particularly interesting section was on rats and plague, which, as you may know, is spread to humans by the rat flea. Apparently the Japanese were the first to experiment with the use of plague as a biological weapon during WWII under the direction of General Shiro Ishii. He discovered that the best was to infect a city with plague was to fill clay bombs with infected fleas. An attack was successfully Rats by Robert Sullivan is a fascinating study of rats and their cohabitation with humans. One particularly interesting section was on rats and plague, which, as you may know, is spread to humans by the rat flea. Apparently the Japanese were the first to experiment with the use of plague as a biological weapon during WWII under the direction of General Shiro Ishii. He discovered that the best was to infect a city with plague was to fill clay bombs with infected fleas. An attack was successfully conducted against the Chinese city ofChangde. A clue that the outbreak was caused by humans rather than rats was that the rats began dying of plague weeks after the humans, a reverse of the normal situation. General Ishii also practiced vivisection on live humans. He was never tried for war crimes, apparently having made a deal with the Americans who got copies of his notes and papers which formed the basis for the early American attempts at creating biological weapons. He retired a respected medical man. The United States began experimenting with biological weapons in the early fifties and tested their weapon distribution methods on unsuspecting Americans. In one case, Navy planes sprayed the eastern Virginia coat with microbes similar to Anthrax but "thought to be harmless," and as late as 1966, soldiers dressed in civilian clothes dropped light bulbs filled with the microbes on the tracks in New York subways in order to measure how the microbes dispersed -- all without the knowledge of the public or Congress.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Much like its subject, Sullivan's Rats refuses to be boxed into a single category, preferring to dart back and forth between microhistory, natural history, and personal essay in a charmingly discursive loop. Sullivan's investigations into New York's least-loved inhabitants is part curiosity (an investigation into an Audubon painting of rats uncovers the artist's rat-hunting habits and spurs the author's own quest) and part opportunity (when in NYC...), and the desultory tone of this brief explor Much like its subject, Sullivan's Rats refuses to be boxed into a single category, preferring to dart back and forth between microhistory, natural history, and personal essay in a charmingly discursive loop. Sullivan's investigations into New York's least-loved inhabitants is part curiosity (an investigation into an Audubon painting of rats uncovers the artist's rat-hunting habits and spurs the author's own quest) and part opportunity (when in NYC...), and the desultory tone of this brief exploration (it tops out at 219 pages before endnotes) never really manages to impute any greater meaning to the venture than that, despite some half-hearted attempts to link the natures and fates of rats and men. Still, Rats is full of fascinating trivia and historical anecdote (rat fighting! Japanese bioweapons! the post 9/11 battle against rats!), if not a depth of scientific information regarding Rattus norvegicus. Sullivan isn't a naturalist, and readers looking for a deep exploration of the biology and habits of rodentia should take a hard pass on Rats, which they would likely find frustratingly incomplete. As a tourguide, however, Sullivan excels, leading the reader through the maze of New York's neighborhoods and introducing their rodent inhabitants, contextualizing each with small bits of history. Should you choose to take the author's bait, Rats offers an entertaining look at ourselves and our rodent neighbors.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    A good book with a great cover by Cooper Grad Peter Sis (also did the Whale seen on the new trains as part of the Arts for Transit program). Ah, if only everyone judged this book by its cover it would have done even better. Unfortunatelyl some smart people (unlike me) read reviews first. The author, a layman takes on studying rats in New York by repeatedly visiting an alley that I myself have previously reported to 311 for Rat issues. There are lots of strange tid bits of information but also lo A good book with a great cover by Cooper Grad Peter Sis (also did the Whale seen on the new trains as part of the Arts for Transit program). Ah, if only everyone judged this book by its cover it would have done even better. Unfortunatelyl some smart people (unlike me) read reviews first. The author, a layman takes on studying rats in New York by repeatedly visiting an alley that I myself have previously reported to 311 for Rat issues. There are lots of strange tid bits of information but also lots of dead ends to his tirades. To publish a book the author has added chapters on Plagues and other grotesque things in other cities which don't directly play into his New York theme. This weakens the book and these chapters fall in at strange intervals. I feel the volume could have been published just as easily without them. He has a newer book on the Meadowlands. Although Rats left me a bit disappointed, and the afterword, more annoyed than anything, I'll pick it up mainly because of the subject and also because it doesn't require me to think. This is a good book for reading on a packed subway when you don't have to focus and keeps you from being disgusted by the uglies that surround you.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kena

    As someone who is fascinated by the unlooked for causalities that affect human history and development, I liked reading about the parallel histories of humans and rats in NYC. The way the city’s geography, alcohol steeped underbelly and tenement past all had distinct rat relationships and were in turn shaped by the existence of the rat populations is awesome. While the overall tone was truly more of an ode to the rat, I was able to glean more about my new home and new epidemiologically relevant As someone who is fascinated by the unlooked for causalities that affect human history and development, I liked reading about the parallel histories of humans and rats in NYC. The way the city’s geography, alcohol steeped underbelly and tenement past all had distinct rat relationships and were in turn shaped by the existence of the rat populations is awesome. While the overall tone was truly more of an ode to the rat, I was able to glean more about my new home and new epidemiologically relevant books to add to my to reading list not to mention a bunch of neat random facts to add to my trove.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Do you love rats? If so, then this book about city warriors with sharp teeth and quick wits is for you. Full of strange, wonderful and disgusting urban tales of rat life in the alleys, drainpipes and bathtubs of NYC. From another Goodreads reviewer: "I've always thought that they are completely misunderstood, but after reading this, I became a huge fan of rats; not merely a sympathizer but an all-out enthusiast! They're so cool! He explores where they live, their eating habits, their sex life (ve Do you love rats? If so, then this book about city warriors with sharp teeth and quick wits is for you. Full of strange, wonderful and disgusting urban tales of rat life in the alleys, drainpipes and bathtubs of NYC. From another Goodreads reviewer: "I've always thought that they are completely misunderstood, but after reading this, I became a huge fan of rats; not merely a sympathizer but an all-out enthusiast! They're so cool! He explores where they live, their eating habits, their sex life (very active), and presents them as a reflection of human activity in the city."

  19. 4 out of 5

    DeAnna Knippling

    A writer fascinated by both natural history and human history spends a year observing New York alley rats, combining observations about the rats, sifting through the natural history of rats and the hunting thereof, and sifting backward through the history of the alley through the history of Europeans in America. This was less logical and more fun than I anticipated. The author talks about "his" rats, then jumps around to some other subject, often only tangentially connected to the supposed subje A writer fascinated by both natural history and human history spends a year observing New York alley rats, combining observations about the rats, sifting through the natural history of rats and the hunting thereof, and sifting backward through the history of the alley through the history of Europeans in America. This was less logical and more fun than I anticipated. The author talks about "his" rats, then jumps around to some other subject, often only tangentially connected to the supposed subject material. If you're looking for a solid book about rats, maybe this isn't it. But if you're open to a cross-discipline study of history only loosely centered on rats, this is the book for you.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    An entertaining book - gives interesting details about the history of New York, and a study of urban rats' behaviour. Although the title is Rats, Sullivan is using them as a basis for a wider picture of New York (and other parts of America), its history and its inhabitants. I already know a bit about domestic rats, and like them, so wasn't as surprised (or disturbed) as other people might be, and have probably taken a different view of Sullivan's findings from his studies and experiments. While An entertaining book - gives interesting details about the history of New York, and a study of urban rats' behaviour. Although the title is Rats, Sullivan is using them as a basis for a wider picture of New York (and other parts of America), its history and its inhabitants. I already know a bit about domestic rats, and like them, so wasn't as surprised (or disturbed) as other people might be, and have probably taken a different view of Sullivan's findings from his studies and experiments. While easy to read, I found this book badly written in some places, with facile descriptions of people and their conversations. The author also can't stop describing two of his friends as a poet and an artist which got right on my nerves.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alisa

    Rodents roam in the underbelly of cities all over the world, and in this peculiar little book the author sets out to examine rodent life in perhaps one of the most prolific rat infested cities in America: New York. Out of morbid curiosity and the need for some inexpensive escapist airplane reading material, I decided to give this book a try. Face it, rats are disgusting disease ridden vermin so I recognize reading about them can evoke repulsion, fear, and disgust. But rather than focus exclusive Rodents roam in the underbelly of cities all over the world, and in this peculiar little book the author sets out to examine rodent life in perhaps one of the most prolific rat infested cities in America: New York. Out of morbid curiosity and the need for some inexpensive escapist airplane reading material, I decided to give this book a try. Face it, rats are disgusting disease ridden vermin so I recognize reading about them can evoke repulsion, fear, and disgust. But rather than focus exclusively on the urban rat life, the author weaves in stories of politics, architecture, labor unions, obscure historical figures, everyday people, and of course rodent control professionals. It turned out to be an interesting and fun diversion from the usual.

  22. 5 out of 5

    KT

    I'm tried, but just couldn't seem to get into this one. It didn't hold my attention like I thought it would. I skipped around, and didn't really go back to the parts I skipped over. He does do a nice job of giving plenty of historic detail to NYC locations/people/events/institutions (including 9/11)--one thing I think my friend Michelle alluded to her review, but like her, I was left wanting on the rat behavior front. For us fieldworkers/natural historians, you gotta get in there with your subje I'm tried, but just couldn't seem to get into this one. It didn't hold my attention like I thought it would. I skipped around, and didn't really go back to the parts I skipped over. He does do a nice job of giving plenty of historic detail to NYC locations/people/events/institutions (including 9/11)--one thing I think my friend Michelle alluded to her review, but like her, I was left wanting on the rat behavior front. For us fieldworkers/natural historians, you gotta get in there with your subjects to really see what they are doing and why they are doing it! Even if it means going subterranean into a filthy underground tunnel system in gotham city...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

    This highly informative and vastly entertaining book about the history and habitat of New York's rat population has chapters with titles like 'Where I Went to See Rats and Who Sent Me There,' 'Garbage,' 'Brute Neighbors,' and 'Rat King.' But this book is not only about rat history, it's about New York history as well, and in addition to rats (Rattus norvegicus, in this case), we are also introduced to some very colorful and fascinating New York characters, both of present and of past. You will ne This highly informative and vastly entertaining book about the history and habitat of New York's rat population has chapters with titles like 'Where I Went to See Rats and Who Sent Me There,' 'Garbage,' 'Brute Neighbors,' and 'Rat King.' But this book is not only about rat history, it's about New York history as well, and in addition to rats (Rattus norvegicus, in this case), we are also introduced to some very colorful and fascinating New York characters, both of present and of past. You will never look at alley dumpsters the same way again.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Noah Goats

    Rats inhabit a world that is essentially the Upside Down from Stranger Things. They build their homes where we build ours, creating a dark and twisted mirror of our urban landscapes. They eat our same food, but mostly in a putrefying form. They build nests with materials we recognize, plastics and paper, but in their world these things are shredded and filthy. Their world is rife with poison, disease, and sometimes even cannibalism. And where their world rubs up against ours, things turn violent Rats inhabit a world that is essentially the Upside Down from Stranger Things. They build their homes where we build ours, creating a dark and twisted mirror of our urban landscapes. They eat our same food, but mostly in a putrefying form. They build nests with materials we recognize, plastics and paper, but in their world these things are shredded and filthy. Their world is rife with poison, disease, and sometimes even cannibalism. And where their world rubs up against ours, things turn violent. We have been waging war against rats for the whole of human history, but in his fascinating book Robert Sullivan focuses on one particularly bloody battleground: New York City. He tells us about his own personal observations of rats (he came night after night to watch the rats in one particularly rodent riddled alley) but also tells of many other epic events in history of rats, from the black death to the big garbage strike of 1968. And all of it is interesting.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vada Andrews

    an entertaining investigation of the ratness of it all

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    Another disappointing read. I'm about ready to stop going to the library, at least in my town. The buyer of natural history books must be a hippy who smoked way too much Grass in the sixties. All the books have this "tree hugging" mentality towards animals. This book is no exception. Like the other books I've recently viewed, the author's observations are based on his own bias towards a particular animal without much fact or science to support it. And that would have been OK if he could have kept Another disappointing read. I'm about ready to stop going to the library, at least in my town. The buyer of natural history books must be a hippy who smoked way too much Grass in the sixties. All the books have this "tree hugging" mentality towards animals. This book is no exception. Like the other books I've recently viewed, the author's observations are based on his own bias towards a particular animal without much fact or science to support it. And that would have been OK if he could have kept my attention. But he didn't. He was a boring hippy or whatever we call people who insist on anthropomorphizing animals.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mittal

    Absolutely enjoyed reading this book. A slow read though ...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Natalie (CuriousReader)

    Robert Sullivan's "Rats: Observations of the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" is an examination of rats and their interaction with humans - or the other way around. He spends a year studying one particular alley's rat population, speaks with rat experts of all kinds - people who have studied the species, and people who work to 'control' it; searches through writing on rats and their connection to things like the plague. While this book is labeled as natural history, I p Robert Sullivan's "Rats: Observations of the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" is an examination of rats and their interaction with humans - or the other way around. He spends a year studying one particular alley's rat population, speaks with rat experts of all kinds - people who have studied the species, and people who work to 'control' it; searches through writing on rats and their connection to things like the plague. While this book is labeled as natural history, I personally feel it's better called a history - of big city life in general, as well as a history of New York City in particular. If you're interested in the city, you might find more to love and engage with in 'Rats' than I did. Robert Sullivan writes in a chatty, casual voice which makes for a rather easily digested nonfiction read. In between more serious discussion on plague, increasing rat populations and rat problems as linked with bad housing situation, there's a humorous tone in Sullivan's honest reaction to the species, rats' likeness to humans, or even the interesting facts of rats themselves. The first fifty pages or so are mostly focused on rats as a normal natural history - their food, living, reproduction, and factors that have shaped how we view them. Then there's quite a large part of the book given to discussion surrounding the control of the species through talk with exterminators or pest control operators, trapping or chasing rats, basically dealing with rats through different means - how to get rid of rats, how to minimize their existence, and/or how to kill them. While I wouldn't say this part is less important than the first, I felt the book was too heavily focused on this latter discussion for my taste. I felt there was a missed opportunity of an examination of human's responsibility in the whole rat situation and really - adding a critical discussion of the garbage disposal in big cities like New York would've made this book better, and in my opinion, more valuable. Sullivan repeatedly touches on the garbage problem without really going into any depth, while there's chapter after chapter of the control of rats through poison, traps, etc. I had a few quibbles too with the way Sullivan writes, which basically bottles down to: too much extra information that bears no real importance to the main topic at hand. It's things like giving background information on a rat expert - where he went to school, what his family structure was like, or what kind of clothes an exterminator was wearing. If these details were directly linked to points in the book that would've been a different matter, for example if the clothes were of a specific kind to - let's say, camouflage when trapping a rat - that would've been fine. At least I couldn't see these kind of details' relevance to the book as a whole, and I found it mostly muddled the many interesting facts it actually did contain. It seemed mostly like such details were given as a tribute to each person who has been valuable within the area of rats studies and work - and while I can understand how an author would want to pay tribute to important actors within the area of study, it doesn't do much for the reader. On the whole this was a fun and interesting book with rats at its center but is also in many ways a history of New York City. If that sounds like something you're interested in, it might be worth checking out.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kid

    Rats is a bald "book proposal" project that never transcends the limitations of its genetics. We can imagine Sullivan telling his agent that he wants to spend a year watching rats in NYC while jotting down his thoughts and experiences. The agent sells the project with a phone call to Bloomsbury or something. Sullivan clearly approaches the project as a one year job - which is fine - we all gotta eat. But this could have been an incredible journey into an unknown and fascinating secret world - in Rats is a bald "book proposal" project that never transcends the limitations of its genetics. We can imagine Sullivan telling his agent that he wants to spend a year watching rats in NYC while jotting down his thoughts and experiences. The agent sells the project with a phone call to Bloomsbury or something. Sullivan clearly approaches the project as a one year job - which is fine - we all gotta eat. But this could have been an incredible journey into an unknown and fascinating secret world - instead it's a dude who doesn't know shit about rats when he starts the project and at the end, knows a little more about rats and has managed to bore us with the story of how he acquired his limited knowledge. He even includes a chapter straight from his journal and then pads the tale with contemporary history from the time that the rattus norvegicus was introduced to the New World. . .I guess maybe in NYC - though I'm not convinced that anyone really knows. So it's kind of a crock. I think the book succeeds on the thin film of its premise - i.e. this was a book that needed to be written and was written in a passable way. He approaches a subject of which many of us have a morbid curiosity without rigor and without much of a point. He barely attempts to relieve us of our deep ignorance about the animal and chooses to hang brain with exterminators instead of scientists, who all tend to say the same shit about the rat. Like - OK - rats are smart. They have respect for them. What-the-fuck-ever. There are a few anecdotes of mild interest, some half-ass city history - some of which has NOTHING to do with rats. . .even though he's trying to tie the human experience into the experience of rats. Yes we're like rats. . .they are a mirror of sorts into the condition of our world. Quite poetic and pat in its way but super cheap. The "rat race"? Have you ever heard of it? Oh shit. . .right. This book is overRATed. THAT was cheap of me but I bought this book so go to hell.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Abigail

    I was disappointed in this book. If you're looking for a book about rats, this isn't it. In fact it's a little bit, what's the word... Schizophrenic? It's the story of a forgotten back alley in New York City, the story of a forgotten battle at the beginning of the American Revolution, the story of a forgotten organizer for better housing, a history of pest control and a look at the pest control industry and a nature treatise that is less about nature and more about flowery language and quotes by I was disappointed in this book. If you're looking for a book about rats, this isn't it. In fact it's a little bit, what's the word... Schizophrenic? It's the story of a forgotten back alley in New York City, the story of a forgotten battle at the beginning of the American Revolution, the story of a forgotten organizer for better housing, a history of pest control and a look at the pest control industry and a nature treatise that is less about nature and more about flowery language and quotes by Emerson and Thoreau. The author spends a lot of time bragging (At least it felt that way to me) about spending a year observing rats in an alley, but honestly most of the book isn't really about his observations. It's about everyone else's and the way that rats have abstractly influenced things. The scientist in me got excited when the early chapters mention rat kings, and how there can be masses of rats whose tails are tangled together. I was like "wow I want to know more about this." But that is the only time it is mentioned in the book. (Not even the chapter titled "Rat King") mentions it. The most interesting sections didn't happen until toward the end of the book. They were the chapters covering the spread of the bubonic plague in the middle ages and the pest control measures that were taken after 9/11. The latter was particularly interesting because that's not something people really think about. But other than that, meh. I think this book had potential and maybe a certain type of person would find this interesting, but for me, it was mostly fluff. I didn't learn very much from reading this book and I felt like it focused less on rats and more on other things. Perhaps I should check out the book the author mentions by the "rat expert." It might be a little less disappointing.

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