Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan (2004) as a housewarming present shortly after we moved into our new house with its increasingly hopeless seeming rat problem. It took us about eight months to figure out the solution (back flow valve in the main sewer line into the house!), and since then we have been completely rat free (9 months and counting!). Now that the rats are really really gone, I felt like I could finally handle this book.
Sullivan spent a year observing rats in a single alley in the financial district of Manhattan. What originally started as a magazine article was bulked up into a book-length work that covers the history of rats in New York, the history of the plague, the profession and life of the exterminator, and Sullivan's own many observations on the activities and preferences of his particular alley rats. His observations were interrupted by the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the book ends up exploring the effects of the collapse of the towers on both the people of New York and her rats.
Sullivan occasionally gets a little cute, and his comparisons of the activities of people to the activities of rats can get a little dull, but ultimately this is a pretty fascinating book, regardless of your feelings for rodents. As much a history of New York City as an exploration of a single animal, the wide-reaching nature of Sullivan's reporting is a real strength and keeps the book from getting too bogged down in a single corner.
Coincidentally, I'm about to head on my first trip to New York City (so excited!), so I'll be on the lookout for any rodents of unusual size. If nothing else, this book has given me some perspective on the little animals that drove me crazy for two thirds of last year.