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Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants Paperback – March 24, 2005
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From The New Yorker
For a year, Sullivan made pilgrimages to a "filth-slicked little alley" near City Hall to observe rats in their natural habitat. He also trolled libraries for rat lore and interviewed exterminators, biologists, politicians, and ordinary citizens about the timeless struggle against New York's "most unwanted inhabitants." The logic behind his peregrinations is often elusive, but the result is a wealth of satisfying information: rats like raw beef, but they like macaroni-and-cheese even more; bringing a rat to court is an effective way to make a point about poor housing conditions; there are more plague-infected rodents in North America today than there were in Europe at the time of the Black Death. 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."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
"Sullivan persuasively associates the truth' he learns about rats with a deeper understanding of both the history of New York City and the essence of mankind."
"The author excels at fluid and witty prose."
." a rollicking, richly drawn history.[he] offers up a parade of eccentric characters who deserve to be in the movies."
"ÝApproaches¨ his fleet-footed, fast-food-loving quarry with a naturalist's curiosity and a storyteller's fluency."
." a rollicking, richly drawn history.Ýhe¨ offers up a parade of eccentric characters who deserve to be in the movies."
"An urban Thoreau..."
"Sullivan beguiles us with remarkable tales about an inexhaustible topic."
.".. a rollicking, richly drawn history...[he] offers up a parade of eccentric characters who deserve to be in the movies."
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- Black Rats (rattus rattus)
- Any other species of rats besides the Brown Rat (rattus norvegicus)
- Fancy Rats (domesticated pet rats)
- Any rat whose habitat is not a major city (esp. New York)
- Rat's social behavior (esp. while they are in their burrows).
- Social hierarchies and fighting/play fighting between rats (what I mistakenly assumed to be the topic of his chapter titled "Fights")
- Natural predators (besides humans)
- Rat biology
- Countless other reasonable expectations from a book called "Rats"
Ok, that being said, I really did like this book--I enjoyed reading it--so I hate to give it such a low rating. Sullivan is a great writer who kept me turning pages long after I realized that his book didn't live up to its title or description. I read the whole thing, mostly for entertainment and less for my interest in learning about rats.
I did actually learn some useful things about rats from this book that I haven't found in my research from sources. The problem is that the useful info is greatly diluted and spread across 250 pages. I think he could have condensed it into about 25, 50 max.
The most astonishing part yet is that during the author's entire year of rat research, he apparently only managed to even get close to the rats on one single occasion. The rest of the time, he was only watching an alley with night vision binoculars from a nearby building. Occasionally he spotted one or two digging through trash. That is literally the extent of his interaction with rats and it contributed zero to the actually useful information that he provided in the book.
The useful information came from his research in the library, so seriously, if you have the book, just read the first few chapters (which are the most informative). Another interesting chapter--despite my misunderstanding from its title--is the one called "Fights," which is all about the underground Rat Fighting (or "Rat Baiting") which was a popular blood sport in America and England in the 1800s. After that, I would only recommend skimming and scanning the rest of the book for any sections that you might find helpful or useful. Or just spend a day or two reading about rats online. There's plenty of good sources out there...
There is considerable 'ick factor' in many of the descriptions, and after reading this, you will not want to go into any of New York's dark alleys. But the author's observations, while not strictly scientific, are very interesting, and he made a definite attempt to learn as much as he could about the creatures he was studying, and the people who lived - sometimes by choice, usually not - in close proximity to them. On the other hand, there were lots of very interesting bits of rat lore, history, myth, as well as odd facts about the animals themselves.
My biggest complaint with this book is that the author frequently went off on a tangent and would spend almost an entire chapter discussing something only slightly related to the rats or his study. The first couple of times were OK, but after that it began to seem that he was losing the thread of his story, and it became annoying and the relevance to the point of the book wasn't obvious. I think this was however, a matter of degree rather than quantity - the tangents would have been more acceptable if they were shorter and more to the point.
With the full understanding that rats are NOT to everyone's taste - even between the pages of a book - I would recommend this book as very interesting and fairly light reading. Curious minds will enjoy learning about the alleys of NYC and their inhabitants.
Note on Kindle formatting: Only OK - it was obvious that this book was scanned to make the digital edition. While most of the 'usual' OCR errors were caught and corrected, there were still quite a few that slipped through. The one that struck me most forcibly was a capital H used when there should have been 2 l's or 'lt', or the Roman numberal II (as in "World War H"). The errors were frequent enough to be noticeable, but not to the point where they actually impacted reading. The majority were 'real' words, just not the 'right' word, which made it a little harder to figure out what was being said.