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Rats: Observations on the History and…

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most… (edition 2005)

by Robert Sullivan

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1,0514111,882 (3.7)32
Title:Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants
Authors:Robert Sullivan
Info:Bloomsbury USA (2005), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan


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Other reviewers have complained that this book isn't so much about rats as it is about the city of New York itself, and that criticism is very true. This isn't so much about rats as a species, although it does comment a decent amount about their behavior, as it is about the people who deal with rats on a daily basis and how the rat lives alongside us. This is a history of sanitation workers, exterminators, and doctors and how each in turn respond to the invasion of the Norwegian Rat into their cities - this is how the rat is essentially a part of the city itself, a microcosm of human civilization through burrows and rat pits and the perceptions we all hold about the strange species.

Go into this book expecting social history more than commentary about rats. Go in expecting a history of extermination, complete with commentary about how it should, but isn't changing. Go in expecting a history of the lower echelon of society, how people live alongside rats, what it means, and how dealing with rats often forces us to deal with the less desirable aspects of our own society. Expect all of this written in a poetic language that wants to be Thoreau but never quite reaches that point. Nonetheless, it makes you think, and that's a good thing, isn't it?

I liked reading this book, although it wasn't quite what I was after. Once I settled in to accept it for what it was, however, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a good book that teaches us a different way of looking at things, and it is a book that accepts the rat for what it is: a rat. It doesn't put other expectations upon or it dress it up in hyperbole. This book respects them for what they are, praises them for what they excel at, an marvels at their survival and adaptability. Nevertheless, this book still acknowledges the harm they can do, but does so without prejudice and explains why it is they often do what they do.

We can learn a lot from rats when we stop to think about them, and this book encourages us to do just that. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
I was about a paragraph and a half into Rats when it occurred to me “this reads like a New Yorker article.” Inspecting the author bio on the jacket, it turns out Robert Sullivan is a “frequent contributor to New Yorker”. So that’s why there are trenchant observations on the history of the alley in New York where Sullivan sets up to observe rats; compelling accounts of Sullivan’s conversations with exterminators, public health workers, and casual passers-by; a politically correct history of the New York sanitation workers strike in the 1960s; and stream-of-consciousness musings that include John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Daniel Defoe. There’s not very much about rats, though. We do learn that Rattus norvegicus was a relatively late (early 18th century) arrival in the New World; that there are no rats in Alberta; that a rat requires about two ounces of water a day; and that rats really can crawl and swim up through the S-trap in your toilet bowl, and that one old rat (missing a paw, at that) in an unnamed government building in Washington, D.C. was so cunning about traps and poison bait that it finally had to be taken out by a stake-out sniper with a rifle and night-vision equipment. This isn’t a bad book at all; it was a quite enjoyable read and Sullivan is a good writer. But I need to go find some dull texts on rodent biology now.

No illustrations; no maps (a handicap, since Sullivan spends a lot of time discussing New York current and historical geography). No index. No footnotes or formal bibliography, although there’s an end matter “Notes” section that lists Sullivan’s sources (but also where he bought his binoculars and night vision goggles). ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 17, 2017 |
Alex Awards
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
I found this book fascinating. Looking at New York from the kerb or subway up is more interesting than the penthouse. I always marvelled at the rats in New York when I lived there. They crawl around the subways often oblivious to humans. Nice history in this book as well about Rikers Island. I highly recommend it. ( )
  Gary_Power | Jul 10, 2016 |
Easy to read and entertaining account of a fascinating creature. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
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When I wrote the following account of my experiences with rats, I lived in an apartment building on a block filled with other apartment buildings, amidst the approximately eight million people in New York City, and I paid rent to a landlord that I never actually met—though I did meet the superintendent, who was a very nice guy.
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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.… (more)

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