Sunday, June 1, 2008

TLaJ Book Review #4

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

I saw this book on the shelf at Aunties and picked it up out of morbid curiosity. Then I was sucked in completely and ended up buying the cursed thing. In spite of the topic, the book is fabulous. Sullivan is a great writer and researcher and the book is engrossing from start to finish.

Sullivan lives in New York City and he takes one year out of his life to study rats in one alley. He goes out to the alley every evening and stays for a few hours watching the rat activity (and human activity as well) in the alley, taking notes, and studying the habits of the rats. Sullivan is no rat-lover--he is at times completely grossed out by the work he does. But his findings are really interesting.

  • Rats are fairly large (about a foot long), so cats do not chase them,kill them, or eat them. Rats and cats completely avoid each other. Exterminators are the only enemy of the modern city rat.
  • Rats learn patterns in their environment and always follow the exact same routes, day after day. They always hug walls as they move and do not like being out in the open, away from walls. They are extremely cautious and always avoid any changes in their environment. Exterminators have learned to put out rat cages with the traps unset for a few days so that the rats get used to them.
  • The general consensus is, if you see one rat, then you can assume that there are about ten more in the immediate vicinity. Rats are nocturnal, so if you see one during the day, it means that the population in that area has exploded to a point that some rats have to venture out during the day to find food. In other words, you have a huge problem.
  • Though there has never been a major plague outbreak in the United States, a small outbreak in San Francisco in the late 1800s was so mismanaged (politicians tried to deny that there was an outbreak, newspapers weren't allowed to print any information about it, any health officials who refused to play along with the cover-up were fired.) that many rats who carried the plague escaped capture. Now there is a very large population of rodents in the American Southwest who are carriers. People rarely get the virus however, because the rodents live in sparsely populated areas. Still, there are far more cases of Plague in Tempe and Santa Fe than in New York.
  • After the World Trade Center collapse, rats were a very large concern for city health officials, though this was not reported in the news. Many blocks around the towers were closed for a couple weeks during the initial clean-up. Many buildings there were without power and spoiled food from restaurants was a huge draw for the city's rat population. Also, of course, there was the problem of the bodies left in the wreckage of the towers, which could be a food source for rats as well. Obviously, something had to be done. In keeping with the general spirit of community and solidarity after the attack, several of the largest pest control companies in New York got together and donated thousands of rat traps and bait and time and expertise, setting traps up all around Ground Zero. Thousands of rats were killed and it is believed that a huge rat infestation and possible health crisis was staved off.
This book was a fascinating read. I would highly recommend it!


The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Looks interesting, I haven't read any non-fiction in a while. Once I've finished what I'm currently devouring (an odd book called The Raw Shark Texts) I'm going to read This is Your Brain on Music, which looks great as Music, Psychology and Aesthetics are all subjects that interest me greatly.

I just finished an amazing book called House of Leaves, which I can't recommend enough. It's classified as horror, which I guess it is, but I'm not much of a horror fan and I loved it.

Herbal Amanda said...

Hah! I bought Jill "This Is Your Brain On Music." Now you have to read it Jillian.

Thank You Imaginary Reviewer for your help in coercing my friend into reading good books...and by the way I put a link to your blog on mine :)

Jillian said...

As HerbalAmanda said, she just gave me that book for my birthday this spring. It's on my list :). I guess it's a race to the finish then, huh?

HA-Thanks again!

The Imaginary Reviewer said... get reading then!

Oh, and thanks for the link, Amanda!