Summary and book reviews of Rats by Robert Sullivan

Rats

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

by Robert Sullivan

Rats by Robert Sullivan X
Rats by Robert Sullivan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2004, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2005, 256 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of the most perversely intriguing, remarkable, and unexpectedly elegant book of the season.

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.

Chapter One

WHEN I WROTE the following account of my experiences with rats, I lived in an apartment building on a block filled with other apartment buildings, amidst the approximately eight million people in New York City, and I paid rent to a landlord that I never actually met-though I did meet the superintendent, who was a very nice guy. At this moment, I am living out of the city, away from the masses, in a bucolic little village with about the same number of inhabitants as my former city block. I wouldn't normally delve into my own personal matters, except that when I mention my rat experiences to people, they sometimes think I took extraordinary measures to investigate them, and I didn't. All I did was stand in an alley--a filth-slicked little alley that is about as old as the city and secret the way alleys are secret and yet just a block or two from Wall Street, from Broadway, and from what used to be the World Trade Center. All I did was take a spot next to the trash and wait...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!
  • award image

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I could fill pages with anecdotes from this book but instead I encourage you to go and read the very extensive excerpt at BookBrowse for yourself. The excerpt is unique to BookBrowse and I guarantee you'll come away with lots of wonderful facts to send shivers down your friends' spines for years to come!..continued

Full Review (217 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Media Reviews

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.

The New York Times - William Grimes
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. The rat is also, for those who care to look closely enough, a living map of the city, so tightly integrated into the local environment that to know one is to know the other. Early on, Sullivan goes so far as to call the rat ''our mirror species,'' a faithful follower that turns up wherever humans pitch their tents and toss out their garbage.

The Washington Post - Phillip Lopate
Few subjects would seem less immediately appealing to the general reader than rats. So all the more credit must go to Robert Sullivan, who has written an immensely lively, enjoyable, learned, witty and, yes, appealing book on these damnable creatures.

Library Journal - Michael D Cramer
Well written and fun to read, this book has only one drawback - a lack of more detailed information on rat biology. Recommended for all natural history and large urban collections.

Booklist - Ray Olson
Like a typical bit of Talk, the book never lets its ostensible subject divert too much attention from its author.....So it just seems like it's always about Sullivan. At least it's also always enlighteningly entertaining, like Talk of the Town.

Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Rat Facts

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Of the estimated 25-35 million animals used in research experiments in the USA every year, about 95% are birds or rodents. 
  • Rats cannot vomit.

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Robert Sullivan

If you liked Rats, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Butterfly Yellow
    Butterfly Yellow
    by Thanhha Lai, Daniel Suarez
    Voted 2019 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    As readers, many of us hope ...
  • Book Jacket: Olive, Again
    Olive, Again
    by Elizabeth Strout
    Voted 2019 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    It's been a big year for literary ...
  • Book Jacket: Solitary
    Solitary
    by Albert Woodfox
    Voted 2019 Best Debut Author Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    According to statistics from ...
  • Book Jacket: Becoming
    Becoming
    by Michelle Obama
    Voted 2019 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    BookBrowse hosted a Book Club ...

Book Club
Book Jacket
Evening in Paradise
by Lucia Berlin

"Berlin's new book is a marvel, filled with deeply touching stories about lives on the fringes."—NPR

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Nothing to See Here
    by Kevin Wilson

    A moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning caring for two children with remarkable abilities.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Butterfly Yellow

BUTTERFLY YELLOW

Winner of the BookBrowse Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and the overall highest rated book of the year!

Enter

Wordplay

The Big Holiday Wordplay

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.