Book Review: “Rats” by Robert Sullivan

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted InhabitantsMr. Sullivan’s book is a delightful mix of facts and anecdotes from his year-long rat adventure, interviews with experts (like exterminators) and forgotten chronicles of history. Walden-esque in nature (!), it is well-written (and I get the impression that it is well-researched, but I am not a rat expert). Mr. Sullivan’s tone is informal, witty and accessible. He keeps it real, yet writes his prose poetically.

However, not all of the prose resonated with me. Some chapter and section endings seemed to try to end in thought-provoking full-circle style, but they seemed to me a bit too disjointed, such as the last paragraph of “Chapter 19: A Golden Hill”. It might have been my fault (ignorance of the reference?) or the author’s (overdone intimation?), but either way, I missed some of what could have made a perfectly punchy piece. The book also didn’t have me dying to keep picking it up.

These bits were minor, though. Overall, I was highly entertained, learned a lot, and – believe it or not – ran the gamut of emotions while reading it. It offers a window into so many stories about which I’d like to learn more, so it has great heuristic value.

What really captures me, however, is how Mr. Sullivan writes about the subject of rats: with respect (though he’ll remind you not to be confused – he does think rats are “really, really gross”). In the beginning, Mr. Sullivan notes that, “…despite their situation, rats are ignored or destroyed but rarely studied, disparaged but never described.” (p, 2) Studying and describing are exactly what Mr. Sullivan sets out to do, and I would say accomplishes very well.

A note on the post title: I am very uncomfortable putting the book title in quotation marks, but I must, since I don’t know how to italicise or underline things in titles. I’m so sorry.

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