Rat City: Overcrowding and Urban Derangement in the Rodent Universes of John B. Calhoun (Hardcover)

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Rat City: Overcrowding and Urban Derangement in the Rodent Universes of John B. Calhoun By Jon Adams, Edmund Ramsden Cover Image

Rat City: Overcrowding and Urban Derangement in the Rodent Universes of John B. Calhoun (Hardcover)



How a landmark experiment in rat behavior changed the way we think about cities.

To study the effects of social density on antisocial behavior, one maverick scientist builds a simulated city—and populates it with rats . . .

After the Civil War and throughout the twentieth century, cities in northern American states absorbed a huge increase in populations, particularly of immigrants and African Americans from southern states. City governments responded by creating new regulations that were often segregationist — corralling black Americans, for example, into small, increasingly overcrowded neighborhoods, or into high-rise “projects.”

The situation intensified after World War II, as rising crime and racial unrest swept the nation, and blame fell on the crowded conditions of city life. The hardest-hit populations were left marginalized and voiceless.

Enter John B. Calhoun, an ecologist employed by the National Institute of Mental Health to study the effects of overcrowding on rats. From 1947 to 1977, Calhoun built a series of sprawling habitats in which a rat’s every need was met—except space. The results were cataclysmic. Did a similar fate await our own teeming cities?

Rat City is the first book to tell the story of Calhoun’s experiments, and their extraordinary influence — an enthralling record of urban design and dystopian science. Meticulously researched, it follows Calhoun’s struggle to solve the problem of crowding before America’s cities drain into the behavioral sink. And as the “war on rats” continues around the world, and our post-pandemic society reevaluates the necessity of urban living, the riveting story of Rat City is more relevant than ever.
Edmund Ramsden is an historian of science at Queen Mary University of London, with an interest in the history of the social, behavioral and biological sciences in the 20th century. Jon Adams is a former BBC New Generation Thinker and author of Interference Patterns: Literary Study, Scientific Knowledge, and Disciplinary Autonomy. They both previously worked at the London School of Economics, where they began collaborating on the history and influence of John B. Calhoun’s rodent crowding experiments.
Product Details ISBN: 9781685890995
ISBN-10: 1685890997
Publisher: Melville House
Publication Date: July 9th, 2024
Pages: 384
Language: English
"Rats both epitomize life in the city and serve as icons of laboratory-based psychological research. Adams and Ramsden have crafted a captivating account showing how these meanings intertwined through the career of John B. Calhoun, in whose hands the behavior of rats provided clarion lessons for the fate of a rapidly urbanizing humanity." -  Erika Lorraine Milam, Charles C. and Emily R. Gillispie Professor in the History of Science, Princeton, and author of Creatures of Cain: the Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America

"John Calhoun epitomized the scientist in postwar America: ambitious, rigorous, and occasionally deluded, with lab mice at his feet and the weight of the world on his shoulders. Rat City deftly explores his vision and its reverberations on the social life of Americans, with our lonely crowds, empty skyscrapers, and psychotic incels. It's history that feels all too relevant." -Dan Piepenbring, co-author of NYT bestseller The Beautiful Ones

“In Rat City, Adams and Ramsden unearth an entire hidden history of the twentieth century city and its anxieties; a fascinating and deeply researched book, as well as a vital reference point for our own age of urban stress.“ - Des Fitzgerald, author of The City Of Today Is A Dying Thing
“Breathtaking in its scope yet microscopic in its attention to detail, this journey through the fascinating and previously untold story of John B. Calhoun's impeccable, pioneering and prescient study of the dystopian horror caused by intentional overcrowding in his simulated rat city echoes through decades of human urban squalor, poverty, racial inequality and weak science. Lyrically written and perfectly paced - springing off on interesting, contextual tangents and snapping deftly back to the compelling central narrative - this is a surprising page turner that leaves your mind bursting with new information.” - Justine Smith, journalist and writer

"Rat City is the rare science story that covers a dazzling breadth of inquiry without sacrificing depth of insight. ... a revelatory human tale of character and consequence. Equal parts biography and science writing, it captures one man’s intellectual passion and the stakes of our entire species’ quest to live together." - Lawrence Lanahan, author of The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide