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Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitantsby Robert Sullivan
Synopses & Reviews
Thoreau went to Walden Pond to live simply in the wild and contemplate his own place in the world by observing nature. Robert Sullivan went to a disused, garbage-filled little alley in lower Manhattan to contemplate the city and its lesser-known inhabitants-by observing the rat.
Rats live in the world precisely where humans do; they survive on the effluvia of human society; they eat our garbage. While dispensing gruesomely fascinating rat facts and strangely entertaining rat-stories-everyone has one, it turns out-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. With a notebook and night-vision gear, he sits nightly in the streamlike flow of garbage and searches for fabled rat-kings, sets out to trap a rat, and eventually travels to the Midwest to learn about rats in Chicago, Milwaukee, and other cities of America. With tales of rat fights in the Gangs of New York era and stories of Harlem rent strike leaders who used rats to win tenants basic rights, Sullivan looks deeper and deeper into the largely unrecorded history of the city and its masses-its herd-of-rats-like mob. Funny, wise, sometimes disgusting but always compulsively readable, Rats earns its unlikely place alongside the great classics of nature writing.
Did you know?
- 26% of all electric cable breaks and 18% of all phone cable disruptions are caused by rats, 25% of all fires of unknown origin are rat-caused, and rats destroy an estimated 1/3 of the world's food supply each year. The rat has been called the world's most destructive mammal-other than man.
- Male and female rats may have sex twenty times a day. A female can produce up to twelve litters of twenty rats a year: one pair of rats has the potential for 15,000 descendants in a year.
"In this excellent narrative, Sullivan uses the brown rat as the vehicle for a labyrinthine history of the Big Apple....This book is a must pickup for every city dweller, even if you'll feel like you need to wash your hands when you put it down." Publishers Weekly
"Sullivan tells all, writing, in prose worthy of Joseph Mitchell, a sort of Up in the Old Rat Hole: skittering, scurrying, terrific natural history." Kirkus Reviews
"[H]ighly enjoyable....Well written and fun to read, this book has only one drawback: a lack of more detailed information on rat biology." Library Journal
"Robert Sullivan sees the rat as much more than a pest. For him, the rat is the New Yorker par excellence, the plucky immigrant who set foot in Manhattan just about the time of the American Revolution and, by guile and persistence, put down roots and prospered." William Grimes, The New York Times
"Sullivan never falls in love with his subject the way he did in his book on the Meadowlands — rats are rats, after all — but he does persuade us that rats are 'our mirror species, reversed but similar, thriving or suffering in the very cities where we do the same." The New Yorker
"Rats is the rare book that both delights and makes your skin crawl. Its vision of urban issues is insightful, entertaining and — yes — a little bit creepy." Mark Kurlansky
"This is a wonderful book about the despised creatures with whom New Yorkers share their city. Rats have been hunted down here for centuries, but remain unvanquished. As Mr. Sullivan reminds us — in detailed, graceful prose — they are as much a part of the city's history as any part of its human alloy. One thing is certain: after reading this book you will understand much more about that history, and never look at a rat in the same way again." Pete Hamill
"An immensely lively, enjoyable, learned, witty and, yes, appealing book... [Sullivan] has set up his shop at the intersection of science and belles-lettres, nature reporting and urbanism, and manages it all beautifully." Phillip Lopate, The Washington Post
Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting. The author of A Whale Hunt now turns the lowly rat into the star of the most perversely intriguing, remarkable, and unexpectedly elegant book of the season.
About the Author
Robert Sullivan is the author of The Meadowlands and A Whale Hunt, both New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship. A contributing editor to Vogue, he is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker. His work has also appeared in Condé Nast Traveler and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
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