June Staff Pick from the BHS Gift Shop – Rats by Robert Sullivan

Introducing Brooklyn Historical Society STAFF PICKS, a new way to explore our awesome gift shop! Our gift shop has been open for a little over a year, featuring many items crafted right here in Brooklyn, as well as an array of books on Brooklyn and New York City suitable for the whole family. Once a month we will feature a staff member and their favorite item from our gift store because, let’s face it, who better than our Brooklyn lovin’ staff to give great gift ideas?

This month is all about Andy McCarthy, BHS Reference Librarian, and his favorite book from our gift shop: Rats: Observations on Oral History and Habitat of the City’s Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan.

Andy McCarthy / BHS Reference Librarian / Clinton Hill / Subway reader

What is the last book you read? Warlock by Oakley Hall about a western mining town having troubling holding on to a marshal because of psycho rustlers who keep killing them.

Any favorite hobbies? Talking too much.

Why Rats? The author Robert Sullivan wrote a book on the NY Meadowlands that is a classic. I have a thing for the subject on rats. That match was a literary gift.


When strolling through NYC, there are certain things people notice regardless of who they are or where they’re from: a ton of people, a diverse palette of food, culture on every corner, and… rats! (New York City’s oldest mascot.) Rats can be spotted almost everywhere throughout the city, from the Lower East Side to the Upper West. Rats in New York City, much like their human neighbors, travel on the subway, engage in Manhattan’s nightlife, and hang out in Central Park. Although rats aren’t the most pleasant of little friends, they help make up the anatomy of New York City, so it is to no surprise that Robert Sullivan’s book, Rats, is Brooklyn Historical Society Reference Librarian, Andy McCarthy’s, favorite book in the shop.

Sullivan decided to write about rats while on a visit to a Native American conservation. Traditionally, Native Americans practice oneness with nature by not harming the earth or its animals. And although rats certainly qualify as animals, the Native Americans he visited did not consider rats “natural” animals. This sparked a thought in Sullivan’s mind about the rats in his city, how undesirable but natural they seem to be in New York. From rat fights to how they’re affected by the changing of seasons, Sullivan gives us a front row seat into the life of a distinctive kind of New Yorker.

Book Excerpt:

In the city, rats and men live in conflict, one side scurrying off from the other or perpetually destroying the others habitat or constantly attempting to destroy the other – an unending and brutish war. Rat stories are war stories, and they are told in conversation and on the news, in dispatches from the front that is all around us, though mostly underneath.” P.34

Don’t forget to stop by our shop and check us out! Even if you’re not into rats as much as Andy is, we’re sure we have something for you. We’re open Monday through Sunday from 12pm to 5pm.


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