One of my favorite things to do as a reader on vacation is read a book with local flair. You may have noticed my lead to books: The Big Bam by Montville and Pigeons by Blechman. This trip I brought along, Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan, as our 2007 guidebook.
Throughout history, where humans created community, so too did rats. As our fictitious Hansel and Gretel skipped into the woods, it wasn’t song birds but rather hungry rats that ate their bread crumbs. For America, it was the rattus norvegicus or Norway Rat, who arrived, “in the first year of the Revolution.” From which they ambled after the settlers into the country, as Sullivan quips, “a manifest infestation.”
In the summer of 2001, Sullivan set up camp outside the entrance to Eden’s Alley. In an L-shaped corridor connecting Gold Street and Fulton, the oldest section of Manhattan, he began his shift at five in the evening where he observed through a night-vision monocular until morning broke. The yearlong experiment included the tragic September 11th loss that fall, when volunteers worked to contain the rats and the pestilence they harbor from Americans.