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

Articles

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

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

Poetry

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 ...

Most Popular

White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More
White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More

A Nation of Barbers

It seems almost inevitable that long hair is unwelcome at Barbers Hill High School. There’s a touch of aptronymic poetry in Texas public-school dress-code disputes. When I was in school in the 1980s, at the height of the Satanism panic, the local school-district superintendent circulated a list of ... Read More

A Nation of Barbers

It seems almost inevitable that long hair is unwelcome at Barbers Hill High School. There’s a touch of aptronymic poetry in Texas public-school dress-code disputes. When I was in school in the 1980s, at the height of the Satanism panic, the local school-district superintendent circulated a list of ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More