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review 2018-07-10 09:15
The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

TITLE:  The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions


AUTHOR:  Thomas McNamee




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9780316262873


Book Description:

"Our feline companions are much-loved but often mysterious. In The Inner Life of Cats, Thomas McNamee blends scientific reportage with engaging, illustrative anecdotes about his own beloved cat, Augusta, to explore and illuminate the secrets and enigmas of her kind.

As it begins, The Inner Life of Cats follows the development of the young Augusta while simultaneously explaining the basics of a kitten's physiological and psychological development. As the narrative progresses, McNamee also charts cats' evolution, explores a feral cat colony in Rome, tells the story of Augusta's life and adventures, and consults with behavioral experts, animal activists, and researchers, who will help readers more fully understand cats.

McNamee shows that with deeper knowledge of cats' developmental phases and individual idiosyncrasies, we can do a better job of guiding cats' maturation and improving the quality of their lives. Readers' relationships with their feline friends will be happier and more harmonious because of this book.



This book was less about the inner lives of cats, or the science and secrets of cats than an ode and memoir about the author's cat, Augusta. 


The science bits were interesting though some of the numbers quoted lack a reference and make verification difficult.  There were also many interesting sections on feral cats in Rome, sensory input and raising kittens and the semi-domestic nature of cats, as well as the stupidity of humans who keep wild animals in their homes and are surprised when it eats them or shreds the house.  The majority of the book involves stories about Augusta.  Sometimes these stories tied in with the more informative parts of the book, sometimes they didn't. 


I haven't lived with a cat for years, so I'm not as inclined as cat-owners to go all soppy over the Augusta sections (maybe if Augusta was a German Shepherd it might have been different), but I did find the book entertaining and well-written though lacking in science.




-The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World by Abigail Tucker


- Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life by Matin Durrani & Liz Kalaugher


- Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World by Richard C. Francis


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text 2018-07-09 00:28
Reading progress update: I've read 150 out of 288 pages.
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

I only meant to read chapter 4 yesterday, but didn't remember that until I was half-way through chapter 5.  The two chapters really go hand-in-hand though so it made sense.


These chapters discuss the fact that cats are considered to be only semi-domesticated by people who consider these things (scientists, I presume) and what that means for the humans who share their lives and homes with them.  This is where behavioural issues are discussed - not in depth, but still informatively.  He spends some time in chapter 4 discussing - in a refreshingly frank and balanced way - two of the more 'famous' cat ... whisperers. (Ugh. That term.)  Both seem just this side of snake oil salesman, but as McNamee points out, it's hard to argue with some of their results.  By far, this was the most practically informative chapter in the book for me yet.  


The good news is I have two beautifully adjusted cats and one semi-adjusted cat.  The bad news is that the only tool offered to combat a yowling cat is shaking a can of loose coins, which is problematic on a number of levels for us, not the least of which is the effect rattling a jar of coins will have on all our sanity at 4am.


Chapter 5 discussed truly wild cats; the feral cat populations around the world.  Can I just say, I love Italy.  You can keep their pasta and pizza, I am in love with their cat laws.  It's illegal to euthanise cats in Italy; the government pays not only for a spay/neuter program country-wide, but also has programs set up to feed and care for the feral populations.  Now that is a country I'd willing pay taxes to.  The other incredible thing is the number of volunteers that watch over these colonies and really care for them.  The whole thing is amazing beyond belief.


Unfortunately, it's not the cure all we need for controlling the feral cat population, as McNamee is honest enough to point out.  Italy's program will never be truly successful (though it sounds more successful than any other to date) without a complete re-education and cultural shift of the human population.  If people don't take responsibility for the cats in their lives and neighbourhoods, there will always be a fresh infusion of feral cats.  And if Italy, with it's already fabulous philosophy and dedication requires that much more work, you can imagine how impossibly steep the curve is for the USA, where compassion for others of any species is thin on the ground, and for Australia, where if your not a marsupial they don't want to know about you.  I had to do a lot of skimming in this chapter because after Italy, the facts and stats are horrible.


This chapter also includes a brief discussion on the stupidity of breeding our house cats with wild cats (the possible exception being the Bengal, which was done for scientifically valid reasons; the cross breeding failed to meet the primary objective, but did result in a beautifully docile hybrid).  This, with the exception just mentioned, never ends well and is hell on both the cats and the people.  This stupidity is compounded by those that try to actually keep wild cats as pets.  There's a special place in hell for people who do this, and I hope it involves a cage.  This section was almost impossible for me to read.


There are three more chapters left, but there's not a chance in hell I can read chapter 7; flipping through and just catching a sentence choked me up, so I'll be pausing a bit until others in the group catch up.

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text 2018-07-08 17:35
Reading progress update: I've read 72 out of 235 pages.
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

I'm not sure whether Balou's "calling around sounding lost" sound counts as a rowow or a máa-oww. It sounds godawful once he gets going and it definitely sounds louder than seems possible for his size.


Mildred Moelk's work sounds interesting.

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text 2018-07-08 04:37
Reading progress update: I've read 81 out of 288 pages.
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

I'd read the first 3 chapters on the official 1 July start date, but put it on hold because there were a couple of people who still hadn't received their copies.  Now that it seems everyone who is participating has a copy, I'm going to skim back through those chapters so I can do better updates, but so far my overall impression is favourable. 


The narrative is a mix of anecdotal, which is centered on the author's cat Augusta, and the hard science of what we know about cats so far.  The anecdotal is both delightful and stressful to me; a few of the stories he relates hurt my soul (although there's one that ends with the most delightful twist).  A section in chapter 3 I had to skim with extreme prejudice because he relates - as briefly as possible, all credit to him - a few lab studies I couldn't cope with.  But so far, I'm getting more out of it than I'd hoped for and it's obvious this man loves cats, and I like the forthright style in which he writes.

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text 2018-07-08 01:12
Reading progress update: I've read 7 out of 235 pages.
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

My initial impression was favourable. Although the style is anecdotal and somewhat chatty, it also focuses strictly on the cat, Augusta, and discusses her hunting abilities and so on. And then I got to this paragraph:

"Cats can hear higher-frequency sounds than any other terrestrial mammal, quite a bit higher even than dogs—up to one hundred thousand hertz (cycles per second). People max out at about forty thousand, if they haven't been to too many rock concerts or ear-splitting bars (which probably eliminates about half of all American grownups)."

I was like, what? Humans hearing up to 40 kHz? <.<


Supposedly there are some endnotes for this book but I don't see any references for this statement. The figure I'm familiar with for human hearing is 20 kHz, and I saw references to 23 kHz & 28 kHz when I was digging, which still seem plausible (28 kHz is apparently under ideal laboratory conditions), but with dogs commonly getting their hearing range quoted as up to ~45 kHz, it just isn't plausible that humans could possibly hear up to 40 kHz. There will be variations in the exact numbers since you normally have to quote an exact dB level (loudness) to go with a frequency but still. The statement is qualitatively accurate but the numbers are bogus.


I did find one paper that quote 85 kHz in the abstract for the upper end of the range for cats, but the Wikipedia page on hearing ranges refers an upper limit of 79 kHz (mice get 70 kHz). So they can hear ultrasonic mouse squeaks! Tee hee. I also found this really cool chart on that page that seems to use some different numbers (77 kHz for cat, 79 kHz for mouse) but looks cool just the same.Animal hearing frequency range



Apparently some bat species can hear up to 200 kHz, which is just kind of crazy. They do sacrifice hearing on the lower end of the scale though.


And this source gives 64 kHz to cats and 91 kHz to mice!


Anyway, although I may still end up enjoying the book, I'm going to be skeptical of all numbers quoted.



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