Of pigs and rats.

Contrary to popular belief, I have not vanished off the face of the
earth. I've been lazy and not posting. However, I
have been doing a lot
of reading and that my friends, is always good. But enough talk, on to the books…
     First up is John Gimlette's At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay.
I saw this book years ago at a bookstore, found it promising but five
minutes after leaving the store I forgot the tittle. Just recently I
found it on the shelf at my local library. Vowing to not let it slip
through my fingers one more time I grabbed Gimlette's book and took it
home with me to read. I loved it. While describing his travels
throughout the remote South American country, the author, (a
London-based attorney), enlightens the reader with the little known
history of this rather strange place, one of only two landlocked
countries in the Western Hemisphere. In the 19th century Paraguay's
Napoleonically inclined dictator made the mistake of starting a war
with the country's three neighboring nations. The result was disaster
of apocalyptic proportions-90 percent of its male population dead and
25 percent of its territory lost, leaving Paraguay to "a half century
of penury, polygamy and political sterility". In all it would take 60
years for the nation to recover. Ultimately, it would attract former
Nazis like Josef Mengele, novelist Graham Greene and English
explorer/Arabist Richard Burton. Paraguay would also provide the
inspiration to Polish writer Joseph Conrad for his novel Nostromo. In the end, I was quite pleased with Gimlette's readable and fascinating account of this exotic Latin American nation.
    Like the Chinese calender we transition from pigs to rats. So, I guess that brings us to well, Rats
by Robert Sullivan. I've been wanting to read his 2004 book for nearly
half a decade, ever since
hearing a lot of positive buzz surrounding Sullivan's book. I also enjoyed his previous book The Meadowlands.
Happily, I must report that Sullivan does not disappoint. I loved his
book. Each of us probably thinks we know all there is about rats, but did you know:

  • According to some estimates, almost one third of the world's food supply is destroyed by rats.
  • Rats on average have sex with each other close to 20 times a day. Chances are, if you are reading this sentence in a large city like New York, two rats near you are having sex.
  • One of the most prevalent rat species in America is the Norway rat. It is not native to America or even Norway. It is native to Asia and after migrating to Europe probably hitched a ride to North America on a British ship of German mercenaries during the American Revolution.

 After reading Sullivan's excellent book, I now respect rats nearly as much as I loath them.

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Filed under Area Studies/International Relations, History, Science

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