An affectionate yet realistic portrait of felis silvestris catus and a definite boon to anyone contemplating adopting a cat.

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THE INNER LIFE OF CATS

THE SCIENCE AND SECRETS OF OUR MYSTERIOUS FELINE COMPANIONS

A cat lover blends his personal experiences with research in this attempt to help us better understand our feline pets.

McNamee (The Killing of Wolf Number 10, 2014, etc.), the author of several natural history books, wrote this book after winning a Guggenheim fellowship. He opens with a story about Augusta, a little black kitten that had been abandoned and found her way to his door in the middle of any icy Montana winter. The author lovingly describes her antics as well as her death by euthanasia some 15 years later. In between, McNamee turns to the work of others to explore the human-cat relationship, the way cats communicate, and their quirky behavior and how it is shaped by their wildness. He also looks at the problem of feral cats—he reports that they kill billions of birds in the United States every year—and how colonies of them are handled in different cities around the world. There’s a bit of history of cats in ancient Egypt and China, but clearly McNamee is interested in the present. While not intended to be a how-to manual, the book is full of advice on the care of pet cats, dealing with topics such as litter boxes, food, discipline, and diseases. In a bow to experts, McNamee reprints a copy of “Five Pillars of a Healthy Feline Environment” and a veterinarian’s quality-of-life scale to help cat owners make end-of-life decisions. Footnotes abound, sometimes a half dozen to a page, and helpful websites and recommended book titles are cited in the text. The author does not hesitate to warn readers about some bad cat books, and he has cautionary words about cat behaviorists—that field, apparently, is largely unregulated.

An affectionate yet realistic portrait of felis silvestris catus and a definite boon to anyone contemplating adopting a cat.

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-26287-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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