Sullivan tells all, writing, in prose worthy of Joseph Mitchell, a sort of “Up in the Old Rat Hole”: skittering, scurrying,...




A skillful nature writer goes on rat patrol and records a year with vermin.

In his journal of a rat year, Sullivan (A Whale Hunt, 2000, etc.) deduces that the rat is a permanent companion to humans, living where mankind lives, eating what mankind eats. (He provides a menu of Rodentia’s favorite and least liked foods). Alley rats, sewer rats, toilet rats—all those urban Norway rats—live in every big city in America. And, right now, if they’re not eating, they’re copulating. Often a foot long before the tail, these nasty city slickers dig their nests with separate bolt-holes for quick escapes. Contemplating such rat lore nightly in an alley not far from the World Trade Center, Sullivan finds much to chew on. Inevitably, there’s the Black Death and how it ravaged medieval Europe, but there was also plague in California a century ago. That leads to some history of germ warfare, a garbage strike, rat-baiting in Old New York, and a story of the colonial Liberty Boys. Sullivan studies publications like Pest Control Technology as well as historical texts. He salutes famous rat-catchers while he hangs out with the rodent’s natural predators: exterminators. He travels out of town to consort with the foremost minds of pest control. He follows the Sisyphean pros with the enthusiasm of a cub police reporter as they wrestle to draw rat blood from their prey. Eventually, he traps a rat himself. He comes to recognize one old rodent, and he surely cut a curious figure running beside a dashing rat to clock its speed. After September 11, Sullivan returned to his alley to find that the vermin fared well. Taken with the wisdom of the exterminators, absorbed in ratological study, our writer seems to believe, finally, we are like rats, rats are like us.

Sullivan tells all, writing, in prose worthy of Joseph Mitchell, a sort of “Up in the Old Rat Hole”: skittering, scurrying, terrific natural history.

Pub Date: April 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-58234-385-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2004

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.


Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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