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

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,932 Ratings  ·  471 Reviews
The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback with an all-new afterword by the author.

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 a
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 11th 2005 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 04, 2008 Jessica rated it liked it
Recommends it for: city dwellers; rats in the garbage of the western world
Recommended to Jessica by: borrowed from mindee
Shelves: here-is-new-york
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 ...more
Jul 10, 2008 Mike rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
Abigail Hilton
Aug 23, 2010 Abigail Hilton rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jan 13, 2008 Natalie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 06, 2007 Sean rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: True New Yorkers
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
Aug 10, 2007 miriam rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: urban history buffs, rodent lovers and haters
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 ...more
Jul 24, 2007 Kena rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who watch for rats along the tracks

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
Aug 08, 2007 Mary rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Rodent Lovers
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
B. Rule
Feb 17, 2013 B. Rule rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Apr 17, 2009 Eric_W rated it really liked it
Shelves: technology
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 ...more
Jenna Los
Feb 05, 2008 Jenna Los rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Sep 30, 2007 Lesley rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: new yorkers
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
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
There are rats in my apartment. I see them all the time, both night and day. While working with my computer, they would climb in the nearby pile of books. Sometimes a big one would pass right in front of me at my table, perhaps unaware that I'm just there right in front of him. So I read this book.

It's not so much about rats, however, than about people who had been, or are, involved with rats. And since rats are known carriers of diseases, plagues were also discussed.

Rats, the book said, have ,
Oct 12, 2009 Kid rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Alana Trejo
Dec 08, 2008 Alana Trejo rated it it was amazing
This book is fascinating and surprisingly moving. Basically rats live where people live and eat what people eat, crossing almost all socioeconomic barriers (except for, strangely, Montana). I found the stories about post 9/11 New York rats particularly moving. Even after so much chaos and violence at the site of ground zero a lot of rats managed to survive. I'm not sure exactly how to eloquently express the rats/people metaphor, maybe I need to read the book again, but it was moving. Also moving ...more
May 04, 2014 Alisa rated it liked it
Shelves: microhistory
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 ...more
May 01, 2007 Ma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 21, 2008 KT rated it it was ok
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
Aug 31, 2015 Stephanie rated it really liked it
This book was about so much more than rats; what was perhaps most surprising come book's-end was how profound it was; how far-reaching its scope; it was even a little moving.

The writing is lovely (Sullivan had a knack for artfully describing mounds of garbage in great and vivid detail). A line like: "To stand in an alley is to watch the city from its bowels, to feel life grumbling in its gut" is what made this book so special. Sullivan's enthusiasm for his subject keeps the reader engaged. The p
Jul 19, 2015 ^ rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: I would not recommend this book.
Not the intelligent, playful, loyal, fancy rats that I and my siblings kept as pets; and if I remember correctly once showed competitively, when we were young.

This book just doesn’t match-up to the real life experience of owning a pet as wonderful and as intelligent as a rat. Go to a fancy rat show & you’ll see what I mean (in England see ).

There’s a rational explanation for all of this. The book investigates the life cycle of the urban ‘wild’ rat; every bit as intellige
Oct 15, 2010 Mona rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I have a soft spot in my heart for animals that make most people cringe. When I see a rat "in the wild" scurrying by, my eyes light up, I squeal, and clap my hands. I used to have a pet rat in high school (his name was Tynan) and he was such an incredible little companion. I know, I know, city rats are *not* the same as pet rats. But still...they are smart, cute (yes, they are!), cunning, resourceful, and tenacious. So imagine my excitement when I came across this title, and my surprise at notin ...more
Jan 26, 2010 Jesse rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2010
Rats are always interesting. This book, however, was not-- very strangely organized, it obviously lacked a strong editor. There were a lot of portions that seemed entirely out of place, whether barely-connected history or unnecessary personal narrative by the author. The principal organization of the book is the author's remarks on spending a year in an alley watching rats, and at this point, the framing device of "One Year In..." has gotten so old by now that it's likely to make you feel tired ...more
Frank Stein
Jun 25, 2010 Frank Stein rated it liked it
This mainly feels like a New Yorker article that went on far too long. It meanders and maunders all over the place, and many of the chapters appear to be completely irrelevant filler.

Still, the second chapter, simply describing the biology of the city rat, is filled with the kind of fun factoids that I wanted when I picked up the book. Rats usually live about a year, can have sex up to twenty times a day, gestate over just twenty-one days, and their nibbling causes about a fourth of all cable an
Britt the dog
Jul 08, 2008 Britt the dog rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone curious about rats
Shelves: nature
I told my boss I wanted a pet rat (I don't know how this got started), and soon enough he was forwarding me pictures of tasty rat dishes and cooks preparing rats (i.e., street vendors singeing their fur off with torches) in China (right before our trip there!). And then Jason happened to check this book out from the library, and I couldn't resist reading along.

For some reason, I reviewed this on my myspace page and not in Goodreads. I'm behind the times!

Rats highlights the amazing and horrible r
A fairly interesting account of the problem and history of rats in urban civilization, with a large focus on New York City. Fragments of many interesting topics get presented, but they get well diluted with a focus on the authors own shallow observations of rats through night-time forays and relatively unenlightening conversations with pest control professionals. Yes, they are almost impossible to eradicate given all the access to garbage and the many hiding places available to them. Yes, their ...more
Mar 09, 2013 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
There are essentially three threads to this book.

The first is about rats, obviously: this is what I was expecting to read about, and it held my interest throughout.

Second is a connection Sullivan makes between rats and people, using an allusion to Emerson's essay on "Representative Men" to spin histories of what he considers the important "Unrepresentative Men" of history connected to rats and rat behavior, sometimes tenuously: this took me a while to get into, but ultimately I was happy to get
Hans Fulton
Jan 15, 2014 Hans Fulton rated it really liked it
Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants is a very interesting and unusual book. It is written by Robert Sullivan, who decides to observe city rats in their natural habitat. It has several up and downsides.
When given the parts on his actual experiences, the book is quite nice. It talks about their behavior and what he noticed as well. It describes the conversations that he had with exterminators, scientists and everyday people that he meets along
Hannah  Messler
Apr 14, 2016 Hannah Messler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: june-2015
"And then, at long last, in a thrilling finale the very next morning, I caught a rat. What a heady feeling it was, to catch a rat! What a thrill to have briefly arrested one grimy twitch of the city's energy, to have isolated a note of the grey rat masses--to look a rat in the eye (even if it wouldn't look at me) and see it as a fact so ripe, as a city truth and a biting truth at that!"

Well I have been meaning to read this forever because of course I have always loved the little ratrats but did
Jun 23, 2016 s rated it did not like it
It's not about rat ethology. It's a lite and discursive set of anecdotes about exterminators, plague, historical figures, and the author's observations of rats in an alley in the financial district. These musings would be a lot more compelling if more concise and accurate. A representative sentence is on page 5: "The average brown rat is large and stocky; it grows to be approximately sixteen inches long from its nose to its tail--the size of a large adult human male's foot--and weighs about a po ...more
Sep 06, 2007 Dave-O rated it liked it
In this book are more facts about rats that you can poke at with a stick. There's some great anecdotes (historical and recent) as well as profiles of colorful people that travel in rattish circles.

Unfortunately, the author has a contrived overexcited attitude he goes on his rat-ventures and it makes the second half of the book a struggle. His observations devolve into a weird fake Victorian romantic praise for rat life (or the simpler life, channeling Thoreau). His writing is fragmented for this
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Robert Sullivan is the author of Rats, The Meadowlands, A Whale Hunt, and most recently, The Thoreau You Don’t Know. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York magazine, A Public Space, and Vogue, where he is a contributing editor. He was born in Manhattan and now lives in Brooklyn,
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“Sometimes I think the city is naturally conducive to coincidences in the same way that Plains states like Nebraska and Oklahoma are conducive to twisters, in the same way that mountain lakes are conducive to lightning.” 4 likes
“Ingesting poison, fighting for food, being attacked by a larger rat or beaten with a toilet plunger: these are everyday rat dangers that make the life expectancy of the rat in the city approximately one year.” 0 likes
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