Magazine | November 7, 2016, Issue

Books in Brief

Surreptitiously — one might even say, with Sandburg, “on little cat feet” — a social revolution has overtaken America. It has been joked that the Internet was invented for national-security and industrial purposes but is now dominated by, about evenly, porn and cat videos; and it took the Internet to make people realize just how dominant the feline presence in our national life has become. The number of house cats in the U.S. is approaching 100 million, reports journalist Abigail Tucker in The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World (Simon & Schuster, 256 pp., $26) — and she tries to explain how this happened.

Unlike other domesticated animals, cats serve no obvious utilitarian purpose: They do not (outside of certain highly questionable restaurants) provide human beings with food, nor do they protect our homes or carry our burdens. So how did they become a household fixture? Tucker explains that the house cat is the rare animal that took the lead in its own domestication: As wild cats, such as lions, started heading toward extinction, the smaller animals that eventually became house cats scrounged for food in the garbage surrounding human settlements. That’s how they got involved with human beings. They were subsequently accepted into the households because of their cuteness — which, Tucker points out, “is not an arbitrary . . . quality”:

House cats are blessed with a killer set of what Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz calls “baby releasers”: physical traits that remind us of human young, and set off a hormonal cascade. . . . [They] cue a pleasurable, drug-like “oxytocin glow” in human adults and trigger a set of nurturing behaviors, including enhanced fine-motor coordination that prepares us to cradle a baby.

This fascinating book goes on to explore many other aspects of the house-cat phenomenon, including the much-discussed question of whether the pussycats literally cause mental illness in their owners. (The evidence is suggestive but still inconclusive.) 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.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


Politics & Policy


Looking the Other Way on Abortion Jay Nordlinger’s article “No More Baby” (September 26) concludes that we are a “deeply hypocritical society” because we won’t admit that killing a newborn baby is ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Bob Dylan is to literature as Barack Obama is to peace. ‐ “How is that not classified?” That was the stunned reaction of Clinton confidante Huma Abedin upon learning that ...
Politics & Policy


HOMELAND “. . . I cannot sing Amid this horror.”                      – Anna Akhmatova                      (early draft of “Poem without a Hero”) Months pass without a single word recorded, Eliminating each suspicious link: The terrorizing, barbarizing, sordid, The ones who ...

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Trump and the ‘Racist Tweets’

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The Trump Steamroller

As we settle into high summer and the period of maximum difficulty in finding anything to fill in hours of television news, especially 24/7 news television, two well-established political trends are emerging in this pre-electoral period: The president’s opponents continue to dig themselves into foxholes that ... Read More

Men Literally Died for That Flag, You Idiots

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Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated

Beto O’Rourke, the losing Texas Senate candidate who bootstrapped his way into becoming a losing presidential candidate, had a message for refugees who had come to America: Your new country is a hellhole. The former congressman told a roundtable of refugees and immigrants in Nashville, Tenn., last week: ... Read More

We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team

For the first time in my life, I did not root for an American team. Whatever the sport, I have always rooted American. And if those who called in to my radio show were representative of my audience, many millions of Americans made the same sad choice. It takes a lot for people like me not to root for an ... Read More
White House

On Gratitude and Immigration

Like both Rich and David, I consider it flatly inappropriate for the president of the United States to be telling Americans -- rhetorically or otherwise -- to “go back where you came from.” In consequence, you will find no defense of the president from me, either. What Trump tweeted over the weekend was ... Read More

The ‘Squad’ Gives a Gift to Donald Trump

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The Plot against Kavanaugh

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