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The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World Hardcover – October 18, 2016
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***A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER***
"In The Lion in the Living Room, three things come together with exquisite, delightful effect: a natural history of cats, replete with ecological issues as well as contemporary cultural memes; evolutionary science as it pertains to the origins and consequences of our fascination with felines; and an unusually deft way with words by author Abigail Tucker. The net result is a deep and illuminating perspective on our favorite household companion… One hesitates to use the word genius, but Tucker’s book borders on that quality."
"Whatever your personal feelings [are] about our feline friends, this is a fascinating story about how cats not only conquered the world but our hearts."
"If you know a cat person who likes science, this is the book you need right meow."
—Smithsonian.com, "The Best Books about Science of 2016"
"Fascinating… If you have relatives or friends who are mad about cats—and the strong statistical probability is that you do—consider putting this book under their Christmas tree."
"With informative first-person excursions to different places and topics, Tucker reviews all aspects of our favorite pet as well as the spell it has cast on us."
—New York Times Book Review
"Eminently readable and gently funny, Tucker's blend of pop science and social commentary will appeal to cat lovers as well as a broad general audience with an interest in natural history."
—Library Journal, starred review
"A thoughtful look at the illogical human love of felines."
"Dig deep into the history, biology, and science of house cats in this charming, highly informative read that explains how cats came to rule."
"[An] intriguing history… Read this entertaining book and you will be convinced that house cats are 'the most transformative invaders the world has ever seen.'"
"Fascinating… Cat lovers, keep watching those cute cat videos online, but back it up with this very serious look at what makes Tabby tick."
"[A]n alluring, funny and informative romp through the domestication and history of the cat."
"[Tucker] is an engaging writer and a sucker for the felines...her brief, lighthearted book takes us on a fascinating journey...Will this book change your opinion on cats? Probably not. Will you enjoy reading it? Absolutely, particularly with your own tiny lion close by."
"Fascinating...[Tucker's] book answers her own question, one that all cat owners no doubt ask themselves: 'How exactly had these crafty little creatures gotten their claws into me?'"
"If you own a cat (or a cat owns you) and you think you know it, take a read through Tucker’s book to find a host of surprising facts, history and characteristics of your inscrutable pet."
"A lively read that pounces back and forth between evolutionary science and popular culture, between a parasite spread by cats to humans that has been linked to schizophrenia and cat cafes, where people pay to be snubbed by the resident felines."
"Many best-selling science books are by scientists who have taught themselves to write. Tucker is a writer who has informed herself on the science, and her book is full of funny observations and wordplay. She skips through academic landscapes that could be dull in less clever hands and hops into the next chapter before anyone can get bored."
—Glen Falls Post-Star
"By pulling us into the deep history of cats, Tucker demonstrates her prowess as a researcher, but she also demonstrates her ability to take concepts that would be clumsy or difficult to follow in the hands of another author and make them palatable for the layperson... Tucker has given us plenty to enjoy in this book and we should look forward to whatever topic she next takes up as that exploration will undoubtedly be as much an enjoyable read as The Lion in the Living Room."
—Spectrum Culture Blog
“While the title of this book suggests a bit of a fluffy story, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s more of a story about evolution… This book explores how cats went from creatures we feared and conquered to animals that we cuddle and bring into our homes. It makes you think about what’s really going on inside your own cat’s head — because the house cat is still an animal built to kill.”
—Erica Murphy, SEO Editor, The Cut (NYMag.com)
"By turns funny and disturbing, The Lion in the Living Room is full of surprises. Like all the best nonfiction, it will make you think twice about the world around you."
—Elizabeth Kolbert, bestselling author of THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: An Unnatural History
"A delightful and warmhearted romp through the history of the world's most puzzling creature: The domesticated cat. A must-read for anyone who has ever owned—or been owned—by felis catus."
—Virginia Morell, bestselling author of ANIMAL WISE: How We Know Animals Think and Feel
"A fresh look at the sphinx-like creature that defies the normal rules of domestication. Abigail Tucker does a humorous, intelligent, and insightful investigation into the genius of cats. A truly wonderful book—and a must read for anyone with a lion in their living room."
—Dr. Brian Hare, bestselling author of THE GENIUS OF DOGS, and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University
"Abigail Tucker provides a clear and detailed view of the facts surrounding the furry felines that share our world. She engages her reader, whether she is discussing the history of the possible ways that cats entered our lives to sounding a warning about the types of selective breeding programs that could endanger the health and well-being of feline companion animals. After reading this book, no one will ever look at a cat the same way."
—Irene Pepperberg, bestselling author of ALEX AND ME: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
"From mummification to catification, from cat cafes to feline etiquette manuals to the earliest cat shows at the Crystal Palace, Abigail Tucker's enlightening Lion in the Living Room explores the deep history of the connection between cats of all sizes and colors and the humans who adore them."
—Wendy Williams, bestselling author of THE HORSE: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion
"The Lion in the Living Room is a remarkable and hilarious journey that tracks cats from solitary, prehistoric carnivores to undisputed world champions of Internet memes. (Sorry, dogs and human babies.) Tucker has written a big-hearted book that’s also a deep science dive into our most inscrutable furry companions. You can't help but LOL."
—David Epstein, bestselling author of THE SPORTS GENE: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
"Science fiction writers fantasize about aliens taking over our world. Too late. House cats have already occupied our homes and our hearts and hunted their way through ecosystems everywhere. The Lion in the Living Room delivers a rich and balanced account of feline world dominion, from their role as agents of species extinction to their 'I Can Haz Cheeseburger' triumph on the Internet. You will never look at the beast in your living room the same way again."
—Richard Conniff, author of HOUSE OF LOST WORLDS: Dinosaurs, Dynasties, and the Story of Life on Earth
"I recommend this book for cat lovers, cat haters, and anyone curious to learn how these inscrutable creatures crept out of the Fertile Crescent and clawed their way into our hearts. I’ll never look at my own fluffy little killing machine in quite the same way again."
—Mara Grunbaum, author of WTF, EVOLUTION?!: A Theory of Unintelligible Design
"This book confirmed something I always knew about cats: they're the ones in charge of our relationship. And that's not the toxoplasmosis talking."
—Jim Tews, author of FELINES OF NEW YORK: A Glimpse into the Lives of New York's Feline Inhabitants
About the Author
Abigail Tucker was the first ever staff writer for Smithsonian magazine, where she remains a contributor. She previously wrote for The Baltimore Sun. Her work has been featured in the Best American Science and Nature Writing series. The first word of both of her daughters was “cat.” She is the author of The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.
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The author argues that cats are not social; this true and not true. Some of my cats have been friends to each other, littermates or not. How do I know? Because they slept by each other, ate with each other, played with each other, and hung out by each other over and over through their lives together. Other cats did not have cat "friends." Either way there was always a social order among my cats.
My cats have also been bonded to me. Yes, they wanted food, though some much more than others. But, other cats wanted my attention and were visibly upset when I paid too much attention to another cat. This is not just about the food. Yes, cats do tend to train their people, but they are also trained. It is a negotiated relationship. They do love predictability and schedules and can be acclimated to those routines. Tucker just does not get this because she adopted one cat; she should have adopted both of those orange kittens; she would have learned twice as much.
I hope Tucker is continuing to research this topic. She has not quite figured it out yet. It is a fun exploration of a wide range of stuff, but next edition she needs to interview some cat ladies, who have spent a lot of time with lots of cats. The cat ladies know.
"Many cat lovers, pondering their blind devotion to a savage little archcarnivore, privately wonder if they might be just a little touched in the head."
Well, as a life-long cat lover, I can honestly say I have never wondered this. But author Abigail Tucker did and set out to discover just why people-- including herself-- are so crazy for cats. What caused her to stay awake at night worrying that someone might kidnap her ginger tomcat Cheetoh and what she might be willing to pay as ransom? Why are we so fascinated with internet cat videos? Why do we desire to surround ourselves with this creature-- both in animal and consumer product form (cat pillows, cat mugs, ect.)?
Tucker's research takes her to places that might unnerve cat enthusiasts. In a sense, cat lovers talking about cats is supposed to be a "safe space." A place where being a cat lady is a badge of honor. A place free from that co-worker who stops by your desk each week to smugly remind you how much she hates cats-- while looking at a picture of your cat. So I think there's an expectation that a book about cats will take a feline friendly tone tell us all the things we want to hear about our fluffy friends. And this expectation only grows stronger as cats have become "cool," and cat people have come out from the shadows.
So, in contrast, this book just seems so negative. According to the wildlife preservationists Tucker interviews, cats are an "ecological axis of evil," who are single-handedly wiping species off the earth. Yet, at the same time they are horrible mousers, and thus don't provide any true benefit to humans like dogs do (I'll remember this next time I see my neighbor dragging his fat pug down the block). Cats spread toxoplasmosis, a parasite that causes birth defects and basically eats your brain. It also might hypnotize you into irrationally liking them. And cause schizophrenia. Cats are tricky devils who figured out what no other species did-- that hitching their wagons to humans would improve their outcome. Which means cats are in our homes and our lives on their terms. They could leave at any time and be just fine without us.
Pretty much all my reading is done with Hot Fudge Sundae, my dim-witted but infinitely snugly tuxedo cat, curled up beside me. And while I was reading this book, I looked down, meeting those deep amber colored eyes and thought: "why are you trying to *kill* me?"
It's best to take Tucker's writing with a grain of salt. After all, it seems illogical to blame cats for hunting endangered species, when said species became endangered in the first place due to human habitation, deforestation, ect. The claim that the rise of insanity corresponds with keeping cats as pets ignores that the same time period corresponds with emerging concepts about mental illness.
My favorite chapter had to be "Pandora's Litterbox," where I learned that I am "cat-shaming" my feline by not having a cat friendly living room layout. Poor Hot Fudge Sundae! I pretty much died reading about Doug, the cat owner who moved out of his 400 sqf master bedroom and onto the couch so his pet could have "personal space." No worries though-- he's allowed to sleep over in the cat's room a couple nights each week.
This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me, but over all I enjoyed it. Because, you know, cats.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for giving me a free copy of this book.