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

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  3,585 ratings  ·  541 reviews
New York Public Library Book for the Teenager
New York Public Library Book to Remember
PSLA Young Adult Top 40 Nonfiction Titles of the Year

"Engaging...a lively, informative compendium of facts, theories, and musings."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of this most perversely intriguing,
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 11th 2005 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2004)
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3.71  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,585 ratings  ·  541 reviews

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Oct 12, 2007 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
Jun 29, 2008 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
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was -- and I am choosing this word carefully, given the title -- delightful. Yes, it's about rats, and not cute rats that become pets. Robert Sullivan writes about the big brown rats with scary teeth that live in the alleys and sewers and garbage of New York City. It is spectacularly interesting, sometimes very funny, and, at times, deeply moving.
Abigail Hilton
Aug 23, 2010 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
B. Rule
Feb 11, 2013 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
Natalie Kling
Jan 13, 2008 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 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 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 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
Jenna Los
Jan 18, 2008 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
Aug 01, 2007 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
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have two pet rats that I play with and watch endlessly, so I guess I could really identify with the author. They're such cunning, wily little guys. They were"rescued" from a feeder pet store for snake food. Although mine are the so-called "fancy" rats, one is brown and the other is black and look much more like common sewer rats.

That being said, I thought it was interesting how much rats have influenced and/or been part of the politics of NYC for many years.

Nice, easy read and not too scienc
DeAnna Knippling
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A writer fascinated by both natural history and human history spends a year observing New York alley rats, combining observations about the rats, sifting through the natural history of rats and the hunting thereof, and sifting backward through the history of the alley through the history of Europeans in America.

This was less logical and more fun than I anticipated. The author talks about "his" rats, then jumps around to some other subject, often only tangentially connected to the supposed subje
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
It was okay, for someone with no history/knowledge of rats and did all their research from a bench in a shady alley.

But I would have really loved to read some information from a real expert. I think reading the Wikipedia page would have covered more, to be honest.
Apr 17, 2009 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
Dec 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-reads
Much like its subject, Sullivan's Rats refuses to be boxed into a single category, preferring to dart back and forth between microhistory, natural history, and personal essay in a charmingly discursive loop.

Sullivan's investigations into New York's least-loved inhabitants is part curiosity (an investigation into an Audubon painting of rats uncovers the artist's rat-hunting habits and spurs the author's own quest) and part opportunity (when in NYC...), and the desultory tone of this brief explor
Jun 30, 2008 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
Sep 30, 2007 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
Noah Goats
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rats inhabit a world that is essentially the Upside Down from Stranger Things. They build their homes where we build ours, creating a dark and twisted mirror of our urban landscapes. They eat our same food, but mostly in a putrefying form. They build nests with materials we recognize, plastics and paper, but in their world these things are shredded and filthy. Their world is rife with poison, disease, and sometimes even cannibalism. And where their world rubs up against ours, things turn violent ...more
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely enjoyed reading this book. A slow read though ...
Natalie (CuriousReader)
Robert Sullivan's "Rats: Observations of the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" is an examination of rats and their interaction with humans - or the other way around. He spends a year studying one particular alley's rat population, speaks with rat experts of all kinds - people who have studied the species, and people who work to 'control' it; searches through writing on rats and their connection to things like the plague. While this book is labeled as natural history, ...more
Oct 12, 2009 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
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed in this book. If you're looking for a book about rats, this isn't it. In fact it's a little bit, what's the word... Schizophrenic? It's the story of a forgotten back alley in New York City, the story of a forgotten battle at the beginning of the American Revolution, the story of a forgotten organizer for better housing, a history of pest control and a look at the pest control industry and a nature treatise that is less about nature and more about flowery language and quotes by ...more
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 ,
Alana Trejo
Nov 25, 2008 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
Feb 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: ipad, 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 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.
May 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Even though true documentaries are one of my passions, this book comes close enough. Its take as a "not quite encyclopedic" book on rats is more of a travelogue that follows a man who spends a year satiating his curiosity for the rats that live so close to all of us, but are mostly hidden from view.

The book consistently left me wanting for more in depth findings, and each reference he gave to a more substantial book he had used in his research made me want to abandon his book in search of better
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Alexandra
Recommended to Fox by: Carolyn
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 c ...more
Tracy Fleming-Swehla
So what do you want to do for a year? If you answered "travel" or "go back to school" or "take long walks on the beach" or "sing karaoke and open beer bottles with my teeth" then you're not the author of this book. This dude decides to follow New York City rats around for a year...all four seasons.... in their habitat, write a diary, become one with the rat... HUZZAH, New York, HUZZAH! (oh ya, to get THAT reference you must get to the end of this book). Yes, I'm bragging. I got there.

Mr. Sulliva
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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,
“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.” 5 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.” 1 likes
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