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

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

Bloomsbury, New York, 2004

From my TBR pile.

Some of you may know I have a thing about animals.  Domesticated animals, wild animals, animals with back bones, animals with exoskeletons, and animals with no skeletons at all.  I  like rats and have even kept them as pets.

Rats is a book that made me laugh and made my skin crawl (not an easy thing to do).   A pair of rats can produce 15,000 baby rats a year.  Rats can gnaw through concrete.  A rat’s skeleton can collapse, allowing the rat to pass through a space the size of its skull.

Robert Sullivan, interested in rats because of their shared habitat with humans, spent a year investigating a rat-invested alley in New York City.  His book is crammed with rat facts, thoughts about rat-human interactions and the history of New York.  The people in this book are a fascinating and eccentric collection of city garbage managers, rat-catchers and rat specialists.   Sullivan takes full advantage of their stories as he makes some interesting connections about our relationship with these rodents.

Sometimes, I confess, as I sat in the alley late that summer and watched a rat emerge, as I studied its now predictable but still surprising path towards food, I felt an odd thrill of wild delight at the notion that I could perhaps  myself catch that rat, trap it.  It occurred to me that the rat catcher, spending his time in basements, dilapidated apartments and alleys, is, in a strange way, part of the rat’s natural environment, more so than the average rat-avoiding citizen. Trapping would provide a means to observing a wild Rattus norvegicus up close.   From page 130

Sullivan’s understanding of human impact on an urban environment, and his curiosity about the way we and rats have evolved to live together, make this a fun and enjoyable read (if it doesn’t gross you out)  and I have to say that the times I’ve spent in NYC I was much more freaked out by the scurrying of cockroaches than the occasional sight of a rat running up an alley!

Rats have adapted to live around and take advantage of humans.  It is not their fault that they are so smart and we are so messy.  An added bonus, the beautiful cover by Pete Sís.


Filed under Animals, Natural History, Thoughts

14 responses to “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan

  1. aartichapati

    Ahh, I am not sure what is going on with the commenting system here on wordpress. I did not mean to post a video link. I had a really long and thoughtful comment on rats, but now I don’t really know what I said, except that I promise it was brilliant. I HATE THIS WORDPRESS COMMENTING SYSTEM. I am just going to say that on every WordPress blog I visit, in hopes that the powers that be hear me.

  2. Ewww.

    That is all. :-D

  3. I have to admit, I’m always intrigued by the weird and odd and THIS book has got to be one of the weirdest things I’ve seen in a while. [I have a fairly secret obsession with the bubonic plague and immediately connected this with that]. Might just have to see if I can find a copy on PBS.

    • Weird and odd is good. If you are secretly obsessed with bubonic plague there are some great books about the black death out there:)

  4. As long as the rats don’t ever come in my apartment, their existence doesn’t squiff me out. I even kind of get a kick out of seeing rats in the subway (on the tracks, not the platform) — it feels like the kind of thing you WOULD see in a subway in the city. Cockroaches are way grosser! (But more squishable.)

    • I haven’t lived in a city with a subway system in a while but we have parks, many many parks. I’ve often seen those smart rodents in the underbrush:)

  5. I bought this for two people as gifts before but have yet to read it. Glad to have it confirmed that it’s a good read, Gavin. That cover is awesome, agreed!

  6. a different angle on history ,all the best stu

  7. I’m strangely intrigued. And have just added it to my Goodreads reminder list. Thanks for posting!

  8. buriedinprint

    Your glimpse into rat facts has definitely caught my attention: wow, how fascinating. I liked some rats before, but I had the idea that certain rats were admirable…now I must widen the window of my admiration.

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