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Pests in the CityPests in the City

Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats

Dawn Day Biehler

Narrated by Sarah Mariza

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Washington Press

From tenements to alleyways to latrines, twentieth-century American cities created spaces where pests flourished and people struggled for healthy living conditions. In Pests in the City, Dawn Day Biehler argues that the urban ecologies that supported pests were shaped not only by the physical features of cities but also by social inequalities, housing policies, and ideas about domestic space.

Community activists and social reformers strived to control pests in cities such as Washington, DC, Chicago, Baltimore, New York, and Milwaukee, but such efforts fell short when authorities blamed families and neighborhood culture for infestations rather than attacking racial segregation or urban disinvestment. Pest-control campaigns tended to target public or private spaces, but pests and pesticides moved readily across the porous boundaries between homes and neighborhoods.

This story of flies, bedbugs, cockroaches, and rats reveals that such creatures thrived on lax code enforcement and the marginalization of the poor, immigrants, and people of color. As Biehler shows, urban pests have remained a persistent problem at the intersection of public health, politics, and environmental justice, even amid promises of modernity and sustainability in American cities.


“Biehler demystifies how pest populations have been systematically mapped onto marginalized populations and illustrates a history that has been largely neglected...the book is accessible to non-professional readers as it is a quick and simple read that is nevertheless extremely informative.”

—Mia Renauld, Human Ecology

“As long as you do not read this book in your kitchen, your bedroom, your bathroom, or really anywhere that you actually live or work, you will be fine. All kidding aside, Dawn Day Biehler’s Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats is not for the squeamish or for those prone to the heebie-jeebies; what it is, though, is a fascinating exploration of the entanglements between urban life, class, race, and gender identities, and nonhumans classified as pests.”

—Julie Urbanik, H-Net

“In her meticulous and thoughtful analysis of urban environmental injustice, Biehler deftly illustrates how these pests continue to undermine aspirations for modern and healthy living conditions for all.”

—Frederick R. Davis, Science


Foreword by William Cronon 

Introduction: History, Ecology, and the Politics of Pests 

Part One: The Promises of Modern Pest Control 

1. Flies: Agents of Interconnection in Progressive Era Cities 

2. Bedbugs: Creatures of Community in Modernizing Cities

3. German Cockroaches: Permeable Homes in the Postwar Era 

4. Norway Rats: Back-Alley Ecology in the Chemical Age

Part Two Persistence and Resistance in the Age of Ecology

5. The Ecology of Injustice: Rats in the Civil Rights Era

6. Integrating Urban Homes: Cockroaches and Survival

Epilogue: The Persistence and Resurgence of Bedbugs

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks